By Fiona Sims
image © capacitor photo at fotolia.com
Don’t you just love it when you find the perfect match? Not just a friendly hello, but also a meeting of minds, when the flavours not only agree with each other, but they are soul mates, locked in your memory forever. It doesn’t have to happen at a posh restaurant either; it can happen anytime – even at your local bistro.
It was burger night at Off the Rails in Yarmouth. I chose a salmon burger and a local ruby ale called Dark Side of the Wight from Yates’ Brewery. What a match. Thanks to the addition of smoked salmon in the fish cake-style burger, it sung with the smoky, roasty notes of that beer.
My point is that beer might not be your first port of call when trying to pair a dish, but it can work – sometimes spectacularly. In fact, I’ll go further - beer is on an equal footing with wine in pretty much every dining situation. In short, there’s a beer to go with everything, from the simplest dishes to the finest plates.
This is the era of the beer sommelier, where an increasing number of smart restaurants now list beers alongside fine wines in an effort to find the perfect match for their food, with knowledgeable staff on hand to sell them. This is also the era of the craft ale - and there are no prizes for guessing who started it (USA, if you are none the wiser).
A craft beer crawl is now de rigueur in top US brewing cities, from Portland, Oregon to Denver, Colorado. And it rules in brewing capital, San Diego, where everybody, boys and girls, know their IPAs from their wheat beers; their doppelbocks from their weissbocks.
It helps, some, that there’s always a gourmet food truck or two positioned on the kerb outside so you can play around with your pairings - they park up in rotation, offering sushi to sliders, showing off beer’s endless pairing potential.
And if a craft brewer hasn’t got a food truck in tow in San Diego, then it has its own brewery restaurant and Stone leads the way. A shiny beacon of a brewery located on a hillside 38 miles north of the city, it trailblazes with a never-ending roster of innovative brews and has become one of the top attractions in the area – thanks, in part, to its restaurant, Stone Smoked Porter with duck tacos, anyone?
Try pairing beer and food at home
There are just a few simple rules to bear in mind. Think about acidity. If a fruity or vinegar-based sauce can cut through the richness of, say, pork belly, so too can beer - be it a citrusy lager, pale ale or wheat beer.
Think about weight. Match the richness of the dish with the richness of the beer – a creamy stout, say with a tiramisu; a Trappist ale with a beef carbonnade (beer and beef stew).
And here’s where it gets really exciting – you know those ingredients that kill a wine, such as eggs, smoked meats, chocolate, artichokes and ginger? There’s a beer out there for each of them, too: light, spritzy wheat beer makes a great match for eggs; spicy Belgian farmhouse ales work wonders with ginger; while rich imperial stouts are perfect for dark chocolate.
There are 130 recognised beer styles out there, so where to start? Here’s a simple rule of thumb: treat blonde/golden beers and lagers as you would white wines; and the darker, stronger bitters and porters as red wine. For delicately flavoured dishes, go lighter; while save the fuller bodied beers for food that is more robustly flavoured.
Some great beer and food combinations
Blonde Ale – chicken, salads, salmon, milder cheeses; lemon tart
Pale Ale – a vast range of food from burgers to cheese platters
India Pale Ale – think curries, the spicier the better; guacamole; desserts (the sweeter the better)
Red Ale – a good all-rounder from fish and chips to Thai takeaway
Abbey Ale – perfect with a barbecue; sticky ribs, pulled pork; game
Porter – smoked food comes into its own here; anything caramelized; chocolate brownies
Imperial Stout – makes light work of richer dishes such as liver pate; perfect with jerky, great with apple pie.
Wheat Beer – moules frites; steamed sea bass; fishcakes; brandade; crepes Suzette
Pilsner – sausage and mash; roast chicken and spuds; pan-fried salmon; langoustines; pickled herrings
Dark Lager – meaty stews; chorizo-laced soups; fondue; washed rind cheese
It’s difficult. We sympathise. Despite being an entirely different shape and size we have an uncanny ability to turn up in the same outfit (usually black) and order the same dishes. We both wear glasses, swathe ourselves in scarves and fancy Daniel Craig.
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© 2015 Fiona Beckett & Fiona Sims (the2fionas.com), photography © Gary Latham, website by Scend