By beer sommelier Steve Liven, on behalf of There’s A Beer For That, a campaign to reignite Britain’s love of beer www.beerforthat.com.
There are over 125 globally recognised beer styles. In the UK alone that translates to over 10,000 different beers. So whilst beer is one of the most diverse and kaleidoscopic beverages around, this is almost entirely a consequence of the common use of just four natural ingredients, each of which is vital to creating the UK’s favourite alcoholic beverage.
Malted cereals, such as barley, contribute colour, flavour and importantly the sugar that is needed by yeast to undergo fermentation. Hops provide bitterness and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of aromas and flavours. Yeast gives warming, fruity flavours and contributes to the depth and complexity of ales and the clean, refreshing character of lager. Finally, water. The right mineral balance in the water used for brewing will highlight and accentuate the key flavours that we associate with beer styles.
Tips on how to pair the correct beers for your dishes
Choosing a beer to pair with food is far easier than for other beverages. The four ingredients from which beer derives its characteristics provide a broad range of flavours and aromas that are easy to identify. This, and a relatively low alcohol strength, makes the process of pairing with food a simple one.
Beer flavours can be used to complement or contrast with those of a dish. Complementary flavours work by finding similar characteristics within the food and the beer, such as citrus, which work to enhance both. Contrasting flavours work by finding flavours that are independently different but work together to bring something new to the dish e.g. sweetness of the beer contrasting with the saltiness of Stilton, will heighten the creaminess of the cheese. One important element of beer and food pairing is beer’s ability to cut through the flavour or texture of food and cleanse the palate. Many beers have a distinctive citrus character where the acidity cuts through fatty textures such as lamb or fish. The bitterness from hops also does a good job here. Most beers have a level of carbonation with bubbles cutting through and also refreshing the palate after each bite.
How should chefs market beers on their menus?
More and more restaurants are offering beer lists to their diners. A considered beer offering in addition to a wine list shows that a customers dining experience has been thought about that little bit more. Customers want to enjoy their food as much as possible, and this is where beer comes into its own. Include a beer match next to each dish on the menu. Using the three Cs rationale (Complement, Contrast and Cut) outlined above you’re able to tell diners in one or two words why the pairing works so well. It’s that basic complement, contrast and cut principle that makes beer and food pairing easy to understand and learn, but also easy to pass valuable information on to customers.
- However you approach it, choosing beer based on colour is often a simple way to start before exploring specific flavours
- Here the old adage applies: choose lighter beers with more delicate foods such as fish, and darker beers with richer foods such as meats and stews.