Blog: A Feast of Beer and Food Matching!
By Ambassador and Award-Winning Drinks Writer Jane Peyton
Beer and food matched together? You cannot be serious! If that is your response, you have either never had the joy of the right beer with food or you are John McEnroe.
Please read on and I will outline the reasons why beer should be considered for dining tables across the land. By the end, if you are not thirsty and planning your next dinner party then re-read it. Resistance is futile.
First let’s look at the reasons we drink liquid when we eat and the practical properties of beer. The most fundamental purpose of sipping liquid with a meal is to help us to swallow the food. Beer is up to 95% water.
Beer contains carbon dioxide. CO2 is a by-product of fermentation and is dissolved in the beer. Carbon Dioxide is an efficient palate scrubber that prepares the mouth for the next morsel. The CO2 bubbles that break out from the surface of beer contain aroma. This is crucial in our enjoyment of food and drink because the brain registers flavour via millions of olfactory cells in the nose. The tongue registers taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami) and taste is different to flavour. When we take a mouthful of drink or food, aromas travel into the olfactory cells through the oral cavity and this is how the deliciousness of the food and drink is communicated to us.
Tannins are compounds derived from plant material.In the case of beer they come from the cereal (usually barley) and hops used to make
it. Tannins have the useful ability of attracting fats and proteins in food. This means that tannins help to cut through the texture of dense
and fatty food and refresh the mouth.
Acidity slices through texture and balances the richness of food. Acidity also cleanses the palate and is refreshing. Hops, one of the ingredients of beer contains acids. Carbon Dioxide dissolved is acidic. There is also an acidic branch of the family tree of beers where the beers are sour through the intervention of a variety of microflora.
Hops are flowers and they contain acids and tannins (see above). Brewers use them for bitterness, aroma and flavour. Bitterness is refreshing and it is a contrast to other tastes in food creating a balance. Bitterness also kick-starts the body’s system of digestion by stimulating digestive enzymes.
Acidity and tannins are the tools that wine uses for matching with food and wine is widely found on the dining table. If beer has those properties too then what is preventing more people from drinking beer with their food? Is one reason the perception that beer is declassé? Imagine if the Queen was a beer drinker. Beer would have a completely different reputation. Perhaps it is the clumsy pint glass that puts some people off beer. If so ask for different glassware if that is an option. However one thing to consider is that draught beer must legally be served in increments of pints in UK venues but that does not apply to bottled or canned beer. Tulips, snifters, chalices, wine glasses, flutes look much more elegant on a dining table. They also influence the way we drink beer and how it tastes. An example of this is the flute. With its narrow neck it promotes sipping rather than glugging. The beer hits the front of the tongue first before revealing all the flavours as it travels towards the throat.
Beer happily matches every cuisine and every dish in a meal whether that is meat, fish, vegan, savoury, or sweet. Beer and cheese is sublime, and beer with dessert is a glorious revelation. Beer is equally at home with fine and casual dining, as well as snacking. Wine cannot claim such versatility.
Beer comes in over 150 recognised styles, with thousands of flavour and aroma compounds. Textures, body and alcohol levels vary too. If you have only ever tasted a bitter beer then you may be surprised to know that there are several sour, salty, and sweet styles. There are even smoked beers. Some of the flavours and aromas of beer are biscuits, honey, nuts, chocolate, caramel, coffee, vanilla, banana, citrus, tropical fruit, red berry fruit, stone fruit, dried fruit, pine, herbal, floral, spice, balsamic vinegar, oak.
A Useful Mantra When Matching Beer With Food
When pairing beer with food this is a useful mantra to help choose the right beer. Co-ordinate, Cut, Complement, or Contrast. It means:
Co-ordinate: Match the beer with the texture and density of food, for instance, lighter foods with a light bodied beer.
Cut: Choose a beer to cut through texture, flavour, richness, and fattiness of food.
Complement: Beer that complements the flavours of the food. For instance, savoury beer with umami rich food.
Contrast: Choose a beer that is a complete contrast to the food. For example, sweet beer with salty food.
Hints & Tips for Beer & Food Matching
- Consider the texture of the food when choosing the beer - light texture with lighter bodied beers, the more dense the food the bigger the body of the beer.
- Match flavour intensity - delicate with delicate, big with big.
- Consider how the food is cooked. For instance grilled or roasted meat and vegetables caramelize during cooking so beers with a malty caramel flavour profile work well.
- Match the beer with the main part of the dish rather than the trimmings.
- If in doubt match the colour of the beer to the food. For instance, shellfish with something pale e.g. Wheat beer. Game such as venison with an Imperial Stout.
Beer is Britain’s national drink We have so much choice with native styles in the UK from light golden ales, through nutty brown ales, malty milds,
rich caramel bitters, fruity India Pale Ales, toffee flavoured barley wines, coffee porters to treacle-like Imperial Stouts and several other styles
in between. It’s fun to experiment with beer and food to taste what works best for you. Even if you do not like the beer it will never
be wasted. You can water your plants, use it for a hair wash rinse and slugs in the garden will thank you for dispatching them to the afterlife
with a smile on their face.
William Shakespeare wrote in the Winter’s Tale that ‘A quart of ale is a dish for a king’. He should have added Queen to that because Elizabeth I was partial
to ale. If you want to feast like a Queen or King then banish the dining wine and turn instead to beer.
Jane Peyton is an award-winning drinks educator and founder of the School of Booze.