For most people, food and beer matching is an anathema – odd, when you consider how well-matched wine transforms a simple meal into a special occasion. I recently hosted my 40th at a restaurant run by Roux scholar Kenneth Culhane who offers both a beer and wine flight with his tasting menu. Almost everyone tried the beers, and had a much more interesting time because of it, showing how well good matching can work.
To help understand the process better, I’ve enlisted the help of craft brewer and CAMRA member Jon Kirby. Over the coming months we’ll taste a variety of his brews and develop recipes that work well together.
Jon’s first offering, Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild, is a “strong Mild with a deeply rich character, the crystal and black malt giving a dark colour and an acid bite to finish. Despite the strength it has a smooth character and plenty of malty flavour.”
Where to start?
When matching any beer, you first need to determine its key flavour notes. As well as helping to identify foods that will work, this is a great exercise in developing your palate and appreciating the elements that make each beer different.
For this particular brew, it didn’t take a lot of “taste testing” to identify the predominant flavours of malt, dark chocolate, coffee and red fruit.
Even for newcomers to the art, picking out individual flavours this way makes it easier to start identifying food matches. From the simple list of ingredients above, most people could start to imagine dishes that might work well.
Complement or contrast?
The next consideration is whether to complement or contast the beer with the main flavours in the food. Either approach works well, but in this case, the bitterness would complement any big savoury dish, such as a robust game stew, whilst the chocolate and coffee notes would work well with toffee or caramel dishes such as crème brulee. Keep in mind that you do not always have to match the main protein element, i.e. the fish or meat, but might match a dressing, sauce or side dish.
Match strength with strength
Finally, you need to think about the beer’s strength in terms of alcohol, flavor and colour. This ruby mild is pretty strong on all three fronts and so requires a robust food match - this isn’t something to drink with lightly poached white fish…
I decided to match Jon’s beer with a cherry and chocolate clafoutis. As a warm dessert, it brings back memories of drinking dark beers by a roaring country pub fire. To complement the colour and flavour profile I’ve added bitter chocolate to the batter and macerated the cherries in kirsch to really maximize their “cherryness”. Serving a scoop of vanilla ice cream completes the black forest gateaux homage, which works brilliantly with the chocolate and red fruit notes in the beer, as well as providing a temperature and flavour contrast for the dish itself.
For those who struggle with the idea of drinking beer with dessert I also created a welsh rarebit as a more conventional alternative. The mature hard cheese, sage and onion make this a particularly savoury version and there is just enough of Jon’s beer in the recipe to tie the food and drink together.
Hopefully we’ve got you thinking that wine is not the only option when matching food. Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge famously serves a shot glass of dark ale with his chocolate ale cake at the two Michelin starred Hand & Flowers - and if it’s good enough for him…