The big match: beer and food
Rule one of beer and food matching: there are no rules. While wine has an established set of classic grape, style or region matches for popular dishes, the required reading on beer and food is still relatively thin on the ground.
With the vast variety and versatility of beers being produced by British brewers there’s plenty of territory to explore and options to find the perfect matches.
While there aren’t any rules, there are some basic principles that can help plot a steady course. As with wine, there needs to be harmony between the food and the beer. Dishes with delicate flavours are going to be shown off better by lighter beers.
For example, a British classic such as fish and chips can handle flavour, but an easy-drinking golden ale with subtle citrus hops will work better than a punchy bitter IPA.
Heartier dishes demand a more robust brew and for another British classic such as roast beef, richer ales with malty caramel character can sometimes accentuate the flavours of the meat better than typical wine recommendations such as a full-bodied claret or smoky Rioja.
Beer is often more equipped to enter territory where wine can find the going heavy. A porter or stout with specific chocolate and biscuit notes brings more to the party for a chocolate pudding than the generic sweetness of a dessert wine, while beer can be a solution to the tricky question of what to pair with cheese (see box).
Aside from its library of flavours, beer also brings another important quality to the table – its carbonation.
Most people are familiar with the palate-cleansing qualities of lager when drinking a curry, but all beer has a natural carbonation of some degree and more lightly bubbled beers such as British ales do the job without bloating.
So, whatever beer you’re matching with whatever dish, beer helps to wipe through fattiness, spice, acidity and big flavours to enhance the eating experience all the way through a meal.
As Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver puts it in his The Brewmaster’s Table – about as close as the beer industry has come to a bible on the subject of beer and food – beer is “a restorative for your palate”.
Good drinks shops don’t shy away from recommending wine matches for food and there’s no reason that British beer should be left out.