Beer and fine dining? You’re ‘aving a giraffe mate’ is the sentiment I often hear when I suggest that wine is not the only libation worthy of the dining table. The Telegraph once wrote as much in an opinion column when I was featured in a news report about said subject. For people who think the only food for beer is a pork scratching, then may I disabuse that notion?
First, let’s talk about wine’s exalted status. Wine has had excellent PR for millennia starting with several societies in antiquity that believed drinking wine engendered exceptionalism and so it was reserved for those of high status. For ancient Greeks and Romans wine was the civilised libation and even today wine is seen as the ‘smart’ option for dining. It is true the right wine with the right food can be sublime, but wine is limited in a way that beer isn’t. To me wine struggles with certain dishes on the menu. Have you ever had a wine that truly harmonises with anything spicy or smoked? As for dessert, there are some ultra-sweet dessert wines, but not all desserts are enhanced by sweetness, some, for instance sticky toffee pudding would benefit from bitterness. Beer is so diverse and there are bitter, sweet, acidic, umami and even salty styles, plus myriad flavours.
An ideal alcoholic drink to match with food will have these properties:
Tannins because they attract fats and proteins and separate them meaning they cut through the texture of dense or fatty food. Red wine has them in varying degrees. With beer they come from cereals and hops.
Acidity because it is refreshing and balances rich flavours. It cuts through texture and cleanses the palate. All wine has acidity – some more than others. With beer acidity comes from hops, and carbon dioxide. Sour beers contain acidic micro-flora.
Carbonation because it is an efficient palate scrubber and prepares the mouth for the next morsel of food. All alcoholic drinks contain dissolved CO2 (it’s a by-product of fermentation), in sparkling wine it breaks out into bubbles, and beer is often additionally carbonated.
Contrasting or complementary flavours to enhance the food. With wine this is tricky because wine flavours tend to be botanical, but beer has a plethora of food friendly flavours including cereal, honey, nuts, caramel, dried fruit, toffee, coffee, chocolate, vanilla, smokiness, herbs, spices, savoury, roasted. Many beers are bitter which is a contrast to sweet foods, and most beers have an underlying sweetness which works well as a contrast to salty foods.
School of Booze For Alcoholic Drinks Enlightement & Education
In 2008 I founded a business called School of Booze to enlighten and enthuse people about alcoholic drinks so by understanding them they can enjoy them more. I’m especially interested in matching food with alcohol that bring the best out in each other. To me one of the great pleasures of life is researching and experimenting with food & drink. With World Chocolate Day July 7th, Afternoon Tea Week August 10th – 15th, and British Food Fortnight 18th Sept – 3rd October coming up, I’m looking forward to finding glorious food matches for whatever I am drinking!