Food and beer – a natural combination. We maybe don't need to be as obsessed with rules as our winemaking cousins but it's definitely worth thinking about the links beween good beer and good food and how a great match can lift both beyond the ordinary.
There are hundreds of flavours to be found in beer itself even before we get to the foods we might look to match it with. But there are some simple basics to begin with:
Malt is the backbone of any beer and provides the sweetness, richness and much of the body of a beer. Malt flavours can range from dry, crisp and tart, through bready and biscuity to caramel sweet and eventually right up to dark chocolate and coffee. As a general rule drier, crisper malts pair best with lighter foods – a dry, crisp, tart finishing wheat based beer like the Moonboy Golden Ale or the Whale Ale can be natural matches with white fleshed fish, natural oysters and crab for example. At the other end of the spectrum, stronger dark beers emphasising dark chocolate and even strong coffee-like flavours and aromas go hand in glove with chocolate based dessert dishes and strong blue cheeses.
Hop flavour and aroma comes in a wide variety ranging from earthy and subtle through citrus and piney characters and even passionfruit/fruit salad notes. Hops also provide bitterness to balance malt sweetness. A great starting point for matching more hop driven beers is thinking of them as the 'spices' of beer and keying the flavours and aromas of the hops in the beer to similar flavours and aromas from the spices in a dish can be a great way to go. The citrus spice character in the Angry Man Pale Ale links briliantly with the classic citrus/chilli combination of Thai and other Asian cuisines. The added bonus of carbonation in beer compared to wine also helps clean up and refresh the palate when dealing with such strong flavours
Yeast is the wild card in beer – it simultaneously ties all the flavours together and often adds its own distinct characters taking the beer in a direction all its own. Esters and phenolics from yeast can take many forms in many beer styles ranging from sweet bready characters, through banana and even bubblegum though to weirder 'barnyard' notes. The scope for matching these flavours and aromas is enormous and almost anything goes! Murray's Grand Cru is a beer where the yeast character is to the fore and the sweet esters and light phenolics really pair very well with peach, nectarine and other stonefruit based desserts. Really rich, ripe washed rind or high cream brie cheeses also make a great match
So next time you are matching beer and food, think of the core components of the beer, the core flavour and aroma components of the food - and go for it! There are no rules. And while we've focused here on complimentary flavours and aromas between the beers and food, contrasting flavour combinations often work just as well if not better!
Experiment, jump in and get matching!