Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Principles of Beer & Food Matching

Photo: Yoppy (CCL)
When I ask people why they like a particular beer, I’m often met with a dumbfounded response like ‘because it’s nice’ or, ‘because it's crisp and refreshing’.

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing why you like something; I’ve got no idea why I like Status Quo, but I’d never say they were ‘crisp and refreshing’…

As I’m new to this whole blogging thing (be gentle with me, and I'll be gentle with you ;-) ), we’ll ease in gently to Beer & Food Matching. It’s important to appreciate the core principles of matching the two, but I wouldn’t want to bore or people talking big words like Acetaldehyde, Diacetyl and Phenolic; we’re drinking beer, not in prison.

So, here are a few of my principles and tips for matching Beer with Food:

1.     Hops combat fat.

A nice hoppy beer, like an American IPA (try Goose Island) will cut through the fats in a dish. It’s very citrusy with a strong grapefruit aroma. The taste is piney with loads of the hop character needed to cut through my perfect match for this beer - Creamy Mustard & Tarragon Chicken.

  2.     Wheat Beer is especially good with Battered Fish

A good wheat beer is not hard to come by. Forget Hoegarden with its over-the-top carbonation, and opt for something like a Saison (a Belgian farmhouse ale) like those from the guys at Brew By Numbers. Their latest; a Motueka & Lime Saison is brewed with New Zealand Motueka hops and fresh Lime zest. Perfect with some Breaded Lemon Sole Goujons.

3.     Balance spice with sweet malts

As with Wine; Rich, Fruity Beer will intensify spice in foods. Big, hoppy flavours will also emphasise spice, so stick to something sweet and malty. One match that springs to mind is Spicy Cajun Chicken with Feta Salad matched with Anchor Steam Beer from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. Its sweet malts combat the spiciness of the Cajun spices, but it’s got just enough bite to help cut through the Feta and leave the palate clean and salivating for more. Just like me writing this…

4.     Balance the weight of the food with the beer.

The best analogy for this is to think like you are wine pairing. White meat & fish = White Wine. Dark meat & game = Reds. Delicate dishes deserve delicate beers, and strongly flavoured foods demand a strong and assertive beer. Of course it’s not quite that easy, but it’s very important to get the weights right, or one will ‘out-flavour’ the other.

5.     Consider Seasonality

The warm, summer months favour light and fresh food and beers, whereas heartier fare suits the winter months. The beers and foods of a given season pair naturally, and will suit the mood better. Try a Kiln-smoked Salmon Nicoise Salad with a HOBO Beer + Co’s Craft Czech Lager in Summer, and Slow-roast Leg of Lamb with Thwaites’ 13 Guns in the Autumn!
Beer and dessert works too!
(Photo: Didrinks - CCL)

6.     The 3 C’s

When matching Beer and Food, people often talk about selecting a beer to Compliment, Contrast, or Cut (the 3 C’s)
Choosing a beer that ‘Compliments’ the meal would be like choosing a rich, malty, dark beer with Roast Beef.
Or you can choose a beer because the flavours ‘Contrast’ with the dish. It’s not my cup of tea, but some people swear by matching a hoppy, bitter beer with a sweet, fruity Dessert.
The other key principle is how beer ‘Cuts’ through flavours and leaves the palate clean. Hop character is great at cutting through rich, creamy flavours, or through spicy food.
Because there is usually more than one flavour in a meal, a beer may do more than one of the C’s, and everybody’s taste buds are different, which means some matches won’t work the same for everyone…

which brings me on to the most important principle of all…

7.     Drink what you want

Yes, there are certain guidelines on what works well, but the most important thing is that you drink something you enjoy, regardless of what others think. The flavours you taste in a meal or a beer will differ from a friend. The fun comes from thinking and talking about what those flavours are, and why you like it.

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