Beer and oysters were a classic combination long ago, evolving from a link as the beverage and food of the poor in London in the early 19th century. Certainly beer was a popular beverage for centuries in England. But what type of beer may this have been? The oysters were probably eaten natural – or may they have been doused in something? Here in lies the crux of the point when matching beer and food. What beer and what food?
Undoubtedly beer is undergoing a revival in popularity globally as evidenced by the rise in numbers of craft beers being produced. There are growing numbers and varieties of beer available and beer and food matching is definitely relevant.
Yet the ground rules have changed dramatically, Simplistic matches don’t work. There are so many global cuisines. Sure there is a synergy between the beers and foods of the same country (as indeed is the case with wine): Kirin Ichiban lager with sushi, English ale with roast beef, Singha lager with Thai curry, Tiger lager with chilli crab, full-bodied Munich lager with pork and sauerkraut, Spendrups Old Gold lager with Sweden’s salty herrings, pilsener with German sausage and Ting Tsao with Chinese food. But what if you eat all these and so many more?
As with wine, match the weight, flavour or intensity of the beer with the weight, flavour and intensity of the finished dish. So mild beers with mild food, robust beers with robust dishes and spicy, hoppy beers for the hot and fiery. Simple? Well kind of. While the elements should marry, there should also be enough difference to shift attention from the beer to the food and back again. This keeps things interesting for the palate. Remember that the dominant flavour of a dish may not necessary be the protein, it could be the spices or the cooking method.
This light golden, thirst-quenching, slightly fruity or citrus drop sometimes with an almost floral aroma, is excellent with seafood. Try with salt & pepper calamari, fish tacos or barbecued prawns. It is a great palate equaliser for chilli-laden or spicy foods too.
Wheat beer is brewed with, guess what, wheat. This is a European style which has been adopted by many small Australian craft brewers who are doing a great job of it. It can be an odd beast – the banana-like aroma and somewhat smoky taste can make it a difficult beer to match with food. On the plus side, wheat beers contain polyphenols, a plant substance known to regulate the immune system and aid in reducing muscle inflammation. So while you are recovering from rigorous exercise, match your wheat beer with roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad, lemon risotto with crisp proscuitto or smoked salmon quiche.
Lager and pilsener
Light coloured lager and its darker cousin, pilsener share a hoppy aroma and malty flavour. These beers are less sweet than ales or wheat beer and generally edge towards the drier end of the spectrum. They are also among the most alcoholic of beers. Try lager and pilsener with classic French bistro style tarragon roast chicken, Singapore chilli crab or an American style hamburger.
Stout and porter
This darker, fuller flavoured beer is created by roasting the malt, hops or barley during production. If you’re unfamilar with stout, look out for milk stout – it contains lactose (milk sugar) which gives it a mild creamy flavour or chocolate stout, because who doesn’t love chocolate! Although it doesn’t actually contain chocolate, the chocolate flavour is derived from roasting the malt until it is chocolate coloured. Both of these styles of stout are lovely with creamy or chocolate desserts such as chocolate fondant pudding or mocha ice-cream terrine.
The more common stouts suit heavy wintery dishes like braised lamb or beef and traditional pork sausages with cumberland sauce or my favourite Guinness crème brulee.