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I’ve struggled a bit with beer as a hobby. When people find you’re into beer it’s like meeting someone who's into old washing machines or collecting pens. I guess most people expect beer to be something homogenous and unworthy of much thought.
Well, if people think beer is a strange thing to be into, try getting them excited about beer and food matching. They look at you like you might be seriously troubled.
However troubled I may be, I’ve been matching up a storm lately and I thought in preparation for Wellington on a Plate and Beervana I might do a series of articles on killer beer/food combinations.
Most people buy into the concept of matching wine with food. It’s simple, right? Some foods go well with different styles of wine and some are complete rubbish. It’s not a leap to start considering beer in the same light. There are many more styles of beer and with a little knowledge some of these turn into the inspired companion your food always needed.
Author Lucy Saunders spelled it out concisely in her book Cooking with Beer. “Cut, complement and contrast” are the three Cs of any food and beverage match. This sums it up perfectly for me.
As an example of the first C, remember the last time you sat on the beach in the afternoon sun eating fish and chips. The smell of the sea, the sand in your toes and the fat and salt from dinner sticking to your fingers. Instinctively you know that a deep cold hit of lager is going to cut and cleanse your palate, getting you ready for more of that salty, fatty goodness. The acidity of a highly hopped Pilsner is perfect for the job.
The simplest example of Complementing flavours is chocolate and Stout. For a moment of pure gout inducing indulgence crack a block of dark imported chocolate and sit back with a glass of imperial Stout. It sounds obvious, but seriously, if you haven’t done it you’re missing out on something special. Hell, go all the way and match the whole setup with a Barry White record and feel the hair on your chest growing.
Contrasting a food and beer match is slightly less obvious. You are looking for contrasting flavours or strength which helps support or highlight different flavours in the food. Sometimes a light bodied crisp lager will offset the heat of a spicy dish. Or the ultimate contrast is raw oysters and stout. If you want the ready-mix equivalent, grab a Three Boys Oyster Stout - it’s magic.
If you’re not sure, another general principle is matching strength to strength. Delicate beers work well with and won’t overpower delicate food. Strong pungent flavours require a beer with similar strength and characteristics or the beer will seem watery.
Finally consider the whole beer including the alcohol level, the carbonation, bitterness, sweetness, spiciness and richness. They all make a difference and play a part in balancing the match.
That all sounds academic and a little wanky, I’m sure. You can imagine me sitting here with my anorak on, hair combed forward, a copy of the Film Festival guide beside me. It’s not the case, I can assure you. I’ve just tried a few matches lately that seem to lift the level of both the food and the beer. I’m excited about the powerful matches you can make with a little effort, so I’m going to explore this territory in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for an excuse to get your drink on while getting your snack on.