Pairing beer with food can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, but above all it should be fun. The more you do it, the more you’ll learn… and the more fun you’ll have.
Here in Australia, there hasn’t traditionally been much importance placed on properly pairing food with beer. While wine has always commanded attention at the table, beer never seemed truly welcome. Thankfully, times are changing. Small craft breweries in particular are exploring the full breadth of beer’s diversity and creating beers of every kind, from those with the finesse to complement the lightest food, to bold flavours that can match the fieriest dishes.
These days it’s not uncommon for brewers to work in tandem with chefs to create a beer for the sole purpose of enhancing a specific dish, or construct a full degustation menu to complement a brewery’s range of beers. But it’s not just at a restaurant level where beer-and-food pairing is becoming increasingly understood. Here are a few suggestions to help you on your way.
There’s no getting around the fact that different beasts require different beers. One general rule worth sticking to is the lighter the meat in flavour, the lighter the beer you’ll want to serve it with. At the other end of the scale, rich or intensely flavoured food requires the company of an intensely flavoured beer. Pairing things the opposite way around seldom works out well. With that in mind, if you’re faced with a plate of simple seafood or chicken, it’s usually a good time to reach for easy-drinking styles like lagers and similar hybrids. Goat Lager has suitably mild malt sweetness with a crisp, clean finish.
If you’re barbecuing your meat, the grilled/charcoal element to the cooking process adds some different dimensions to work with. The varying degrees of fruity hop flavours and bitterness of pale ales tend to slot in nicely at any BBQ, as does a slightly maltier beer such as Young Henrys Newtowner.
When you start entering the richer world of game meats, the beer needs to be able to stand up to the more intense flavours; something notably hoppy and bitter, like Balter IPA should do the job. When it comes to steak and stews, there’s a reason beef and Guinness pie is found on pub menus and in home kitchens around the world; darker, full-bodied styles like extra stouts and porters go beautifully with a hearty red meat.
You could write a whole book about matching beer and cheese, and plenty of people have done just that. This unadulterated pairing is one of the simplest yet most rewarding you can attempt yourself. With such an array of styles for both cheese and beer, it’s almost not worth recommending one specific combination, rather it’s better to explore for yourself. A good way to do this is by grabbing a small selection of beers from different points on the spectrum, a similar number and variety of cheeses, plus some obliging friends and spend a couple of hours around a table mixing and matching. Will a creamy camembert work well with a New World pilsner like Staropramen? Is vintage cheddar a match for the aromatic Colonial Pale Ale? How might a pungent washed rind stand up to a stronger, more complex beer such as Belgian Duvel? The truth, and the fun, is all in the tasting.
One of beer’s four key ingredients is malt and, depending on the type of malts used, they can impart characters including sweetness, smokiness, coffee and chocolate, among many others. When you pick a beer (usually a dark one) rife with these flavours it’s not too difficult to imagine how they can complement a chocolate-based dish. So grab yourself a sweet treat – for example a brownie, a slice of chocolate cake or even just a block of high-quality dark chocolate – and serve it alongside a beer like the Rogue Nitro Chocolate Stout or Coopers Extra Stout. If you’re not into chocolate, try sating your sweet tooth by pairing a fruit-based dessert with an alcoholic ginger beer from Matso’s (available from October 16).