In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, or have got me muted on twitter (a wise move, by all accounts) you’ll have no doubt seen that I recently hosted my first ever beer and food pairing event as part of Tunbridge Wells Beer Weekend.
I’m pleased to report that the event was a resounding success. However, a commonly asked question throughout the tasting, and one I have heard asked at a great number of other beer and food events I’ve attended down the years, was: what specific principles make for a good beer and food match?
To those of us that work in the industry, the answer to this question may seem straightforward, intuitive even. For many of us, it isn’t a case of applying a distinct set of principles when thinking about a potential beer match for a dish, as much as an innate understanding of which flavours and combinations will work together and which won’t.
However, for the benefit of those less well-versed in the art of pairing, I thought I would share the main principles governing what, I believe, constititutes a good food and beer match. These principles are loosely based on those covered in the Foundation Course in Beer at the Beer & Cider Academy, and should stand you in good stead should you wish to host a beer and food evening yourself in the future.
Co-ordinate: Probably the most important thing to bare in mind when considering a potential match is the relative level of intensity of flavour contained within both the dish and beer in question. Light dishes should be paired with relatively light, delicate beers, while rich, dark and intense dishes should be weighted alongside an equally intense brew. Failing to do this will result in either the dish overpowering the beer, or visa versa. For example: Try a robust porter alongside a rich, slow cooked beef bourgeon.
Cleanse/Cut: One of the best things about using beer over wine as a pair alongside food is the presence of carbonation and (in some styles) acidity. These two factors give beer a wonderful ability to cut through fatty foods and produce a scouring-like effect, which scrubs away and leaves you ready for another bite. I find this works particularly well with ‘clean soured’ beers such as kettle sours. For example: Try a tart saison alongside a fatty salmon fillet.
Compliment: The most straightforward pairings are sometimes the best ones. Look to match similar characteristics in the dish to those contained within the beer to ensure harmony of flavours. This will create balance and is especially important to consider alongside co-ordinating the intensity of the food with the beer. For example: Try a light, citrusy pale ale with chicken, avocado and salsa.
Contrast: The opposite of complimenting, contrasting pairs work by combining flavours not usually associated with one another. This is particularly useful when pairing beers that have some sweetness, or dishes that have extremes of flavour such as heat or spice. Interestingly, the attendees at my food and beer pairing event named the contrasting pairing as their favourite of the day – none of them had considered how a sweet, smooth beer could neutralise heat in such a way. For example: Try a sweet milk stout with a hot spicy chilli or curry.
Disagree with my choices of pairings, or have a favourite beer and food match you want to share? Please do get in touch!
James Beeson is the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Best Young Beer Writer 2017. You can read more of his work on his website Beeson On Beer, or by following him on Twitter @jdbeeson16.