Sceptic meets his match?

05 March, 2010

Having stood on one spot in a small shop in Headingley for about 10 years now, I’ve managed to break down the steely reserve of some regular customers, and sometimes even engage them in conversation. Not deep, meaningful conversations, granted, but sometimes a little more than talking about the weather.

This week was a case in point. I’d idly mentioned it was my birthday? and that I was having dinner with a dozen friends at a restaurant in town.

“Having some nice wine, I’ll bet,” said Roy?. He was a bit taken aback with the reality – a beer dinner.

He verbally rendered it in italics, with a surfeit of punctuation?: “A beer dinner?!”?I’m still amazed when people are surprised that beer can be matched with food, and often does a better job than wine. Only today I was talking to someone who? bought a couple of bottles of Coniston Bluebird for their husband, and wanted a couple of beers for herself to go with dinner. Dinner was a prawn curry, and she insisted she only liked lager.

Talking to her revealed what she meant was that she drank lager because she didn’t like chewy brown bitter. It turned out she also enjoyed wheat beer and fruit beer. Without hesitation, I packed her off with a Grolsch Weizen – one of the best Bavarian-style wheat beers on the market – and Thornbridge Jaipur, a beer she should be able to enjoy because of its brilliantly sweet tropical fruitiness, and restrained bitterness.

There’s no doubt in my mind that she’ll be back for more of the same, or even more advice and something different.

You might think it’s not rocket science? and, mostly, you’d be right. There are enough books and websites about beer and food pairing that any retailer with half a mind should be able to drum up some interesting pairings?.

My mind got a bit boggled a few years ago when I talked to a food technologist about why some cherry beers and dark chocolate were such good matches. He started talking about left? and right-handed ions, and making lots of rude copulatory motions with his fingers. I think I just wrote “tastes nice” and drew a circle round it, trying not to snigger at his gestures.

Returning to sceptical Roy, I’m half tempted to take a hunk of cheese into work, and open a bottle of 2005 Fuller’s Vintage Ale for him to try?. Close on the heels of cherry beer and dark chocolate, good strong ale and mature cheese is a culinary marvel, with no cooking required.

In fact, at the most recent seminar of the British Guild of Beer Writers, on barley wine, there was a masterclass in beer and cheese matching. I know it stretches the bounds of credulity to suggest certain strong ales go better with certain types of cheese, but it really is the case.

But that’s the advanced level – we’re looking for something everyone can understand. Get some good strong cheese (Stilton if you think your customers will go for it) and some good strong ale – Robinsons’ Old Tom or Marston’s Owd Roger will do it – and expand your customers’ culinary horizons. They’ll thank you for it, and buy the beer too.

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