Spicey curries and pale ales, a glass of barley wine with stilton and walnuts, a crisp classic pilsner and freshly-caught salmon. Beer and food pairings are terrific, mouth-watering and exist to compliment flavours, bring out or create new tastes and cut through each other’s more prominent notes.
Unconsciously you've probably been exposed to plenty of great beer and food matches. Belgian Saisons are surely brewed to be sipped alongside mussels cooked in garlic and lemon butter, a dish universally popular from Australia's beaches to Scottish coastal towns, and any jaunt down Brick Lane will showcase the incredible bond between IPAs and curries, the spices and citrus working well with the punchy herbaceous hops.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend an eye-opening hour with the talented Ferran Adria, of elBulli fame. He was in London to promote to opening of an exhibition all about his Catalonian restaurant, and to showcase his newly founded relationship with Spanish beer Estrella Damm. At that time he was at the cusp of trying to create liquid that was designed around the food we were eating as he and his sommeliers from elBulli worked with Estrella to create a beer to accompany haute cuisine.
He said this to me "I went to a restaurant, I shan't name which one, in London, and it was a lovely fine dining restaurant. I was very happy with everything, but then someone asked for a beer. We were drinking very nice sparkling wine and they had the nice bottle and flute glasses but the beer bottle they brought him was something out of a supermarket...the contrast between the sparkling wine and the beer was ridiculous."
Since Adria's visit to the UK the local brewing scene has more than doubled and our attention to flavour increased thanks to breweries and their beers which embody plentiful amounts of great flavour. The likes of Meantime, Sharp's Brewery, CRATE and Brewdog have been incredibly vocal about what food sits perfectly alongside their ales, lagers and stouts, though they all like to point out it's just a guide and if you like it, then it works.
Ales can go well both with gamey meats, such as quail, and milder curries, thanks to their aromatics. As the BBC Good Food guide notes "The key is not to overpower the beer, so don't make your dishes too spicy. Something like a green curry is ideal - the lemongrass and coriander will merge well with the citrus and herbal hops." So think burgers (without blue cheese), Mexican food (think fajitas, salmon tacos or a crab tostada), Thai and Vietnamese food, duck or quail (compliments roasitness while cutting through the hop bitterness), citrus desserts and Romano cheeses.
Traditional lagers are great with chicken - thanks to caramel notes - while more modern styles, such as pilsner, are better with seafood, especially shellfish. You'll notice oysters and crabs will taste that much more intense with a pilsner. Salmon is a great fish with lager as its oily characteristics mean it can hold itself against the beer and create a contrasting mouthfeel. Hot dogs are another classic pairing, which sounds trashy, however the sweetness of the pork sausage is exceptional without having the thickness of a chop or steak, making it much easier for the beer to press it's flavours forward. Other pairings include sushi, grilled pork and not-too-heavy pasta dishes.
PORTERS & STOUTS
There's nothing so tasty and indulgent as one of Meantime's chocolate porters paired with chocolate, nuts and salted caramel. As much as this rich style of beer goes wonderfully with desserts however it does match savoury food just as well. Think oysters, grilled, roasted and smoked meats (the sweet taste and bitter blackened burnt parts of chargrilled vegetables work as well as beef) and rich stews. When it comes to desserts fruitier ones work well as they can stand up to the sharp hit of stout.
Wheat beer (which includes among its ranks Germany’s ‘weissbiers’ and Belgium’s ‘witbiers’) is perfect at cutting through fats or starch. Take a traditional Mexican dish with cheese, avocado or black beans and rice and you'll see why it's a match made in beer-soaked heaven. In Bavaria weissbier is often drunk around midday, or a lazy brunch for us Londoners, with a weisswurst - a pale sausage - so works well with classic British brunch options. Light rice dishes are equally great as are soups and goats cheese.
Chances to try beer and food pairings at London Beer Week
BEER MATCH FINE DINING
This special, one-off event sees Michelin-starred Outlaw's at The Capital team up with Sharp's Brewery to offer an exclusive Beer Meets Fine Dining dinner. See details here.
FULLER'S BEER & FOOD MATCHING EVENING
Experience an evening with five beers each paired with a food plate designed to bring out the very best in taste from both elements. See details here.
ITALIAN SUPPER CLUB
Join the House of Peroni for a contemporary Italian dining experience with a specially created menu by head chef Davide Degiovanni. See details here.