In Food + Drink

The Best Beers To Match With Classic Winter Dishes

Mention the name ‘Pia Poynton’ and there would be very few in the West Australian beer industry that didn’t know it. The face behind the successful beer blog Girl + Beer, the marketing and business development manager at Nowhereman Brewery, and a state coordinator for the WA chapter of the Pink Boots Society, Poynton lives, drinks and breathes beer.

After falling in to hospitality by chance, Poynton carved out her career in beer with stints working for the likes of Gage Roads, Little Creatures and Nail Brewery. Recently adding a cicerone certification to her growing list of accolades, Poynton currently claims the title of being the only female cicerone in WA, and is just one of seven women to hold the certification Australia wide.

“To me beer is about flavour and story, that is it. Full stop, end of it. You can trace beer back to just those two things. That intrigued me, and I got in to beer because of that,” says Poynton.

As winter nears, it is normal to see beer to take the backseat in beverage choices in Australia; but the perception that beer is more of a summer drink is one that Poynton and the craft beer industry are keen to change. The way that Poynton sees it, beer is a beverage best enjoyed whenever, wherever and however you want to drink it.

“Beer is just that ultimate all-year round, all food-pairing beverage,” she says.

“Beer has such a diversity of flavour. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your taste is wrong or the thing you like is wrong. If you want an IPA in winter, brilliant. If you want a stout in winter, brilliant. Beer at any moment at any time – drink what you want, drink what you like and enjoy.”

The same goes for beer and food pairing too. To Poynton, the process is an entirely subjective one. Pairing your meal and the right beer is ultimately about what you enjoy, and what you think works.

When seeking out the perfect pairing, Poynton advises keeping three things in mind.

“Firstly, you are thinking about intensity – so matching a big beer with a big dish, for example. The second thing is harmonies – so not necessarily matching flavour for flavour but you are thinking of flavours in both things that work together.

“Finally, you think about contrast. Contrast can come from the flavour – so it might be sweet to counter bitter; and you might be looking at texture – so carbonation to counter creaminess. They say that you are looking for 2 out of 3 of those in a really good beer pairing. But again, that isn’t the be all and end all – drink whatever makes you happy.”

Pairing your food and beer needn’t be a daunting concept. Poynton’s suggestion? Just get creative and try things.

“You don’t need to be a chef and you don’t need to be a foodie, just try things. If you don’t know where to start just try beer and cheese. Have a bit of fun with it.”

For some winter meal and beer pairing inspiration, try starting with some of these suggestions:

Spaghetti Bolognese

“Obviously in a spaghetti Bolognese you have a tomato base, you might have some basil in there, and it is a really hearty, beefy kind of dish. Think about the way the meat has been cooked too – you’re not charring it like you would a steak.

“I think a brown ale; or maybe an IPA if you end up putting a bit of chilli in it. I am going to say a brown ale is probably the most suited, because you get that kind of nutty, toasty character to go with the meat; but maybe if it has some American hop character, it will have some of that citrus new world brightness to lift the whole dish out.

“You could also go with a lager. That clean, elegant, kind of bready malt character of the lager could go well with the pasta itself. That elegant German hop is also woodsy, earthy and grassy, which could go well with all the meat in the dish.

“Unfortunately, there are not many American brown ales out, but as far as lagers go, the new Eagle Bay Brewery lager is a good one. It is new world which means it has a little more hop character than your traditional lager, so you will get that nice hit of fruitiness which might go nicely with that umami sweetness coming out of the meat and tomato. It still has a clean, malt finish that will still let the food shine – you don’t want the flavour of one to smack down the other.”

Spicy curry 

“Another shortcut with beer and food pairing is to think about country of origin or history. Curries are huge in Britain, so curry and an English pale ale work brilliantly. American pale ales are bright and citrusy because they have those American hops that impart those flavours; whereas the English pale ale or English hops are more subdued, so you get an earthier, a little bit fruity and floral beer; but nothing too massive and in your face.”

“Hops actually accentuate chilli, so if you really like heat then you would grab an IPA or something really high in hops to go with it. If you want to balance out your curry, you want to go with something with a bit more malt sweetness. That is where something like an English pale ale can go well. Or you could pick something like a brown ale, or something more malt driven to even out the chilli from the dish.

“High alcohol beers will accentuate the heat from a dish too. If you go for something like a 9 percent IPA, you are basically taking the chilli and throwing it up to red.”

Chilli lovers should pair their curry meal with a Hop Hog or War Hog American IPA from Feral; and for those who want to play down the chilli, something more malt driven like an English Bitter or an ESB (Fullers ESB is a classic) is more suitable.

Roast pork with apple sauce

“With the roast pork, you have a little bit of sweetness; and when you think about the crackling, it is really moist and salty. To go with that, maybe something Belgian would work, like a Belgian dubbel. You have that nice, sweet malt character to go with the meat, and then you get these raisiny, dried fruit characters from it as well.

“It is almost like pairing a fruit chutney with the meat, which should play nicely. Belgian beers also tend to be highly carbonated, so you have the carbonation to help cut through the richness and fat in the pork.”

Try it with the deep reddish-brown, abbey brewed Westmalle Dubbel.

Pumpkin Soup

“A Saison would work fantastically with pumpkin soup. It’s one of those go-to beers when it comes to beer and food pairing because it’s so easy to pair with a wide range of foods. I see them as being a bit spicy and peppery which would go perfectly with pumpkin; and with high carbonation, those wonderful bubbles contrast beautifully with a creamy soup.”

If  you want to grab something made in Australia, go for La Siréne Saison. Alternatively, Saison DuPont is considered the classic Saison beer.

Sticky date pudding

‘A Belgian quad for sure. A Belgian quad is rich, thick, syrupy – it is basically a sticky date pudding in a glass, with some booze. Again, you have got that carbonation that cuts through the thick sauce and dense pudding just perfectly.’

‘Another little cheat is ‘if in doubt, just go Belgian’. To the Belgians, beer and food pairing is second nature, so you can always rely on their beers to be good with food.’

Try the abbey brewed, St. Bernadus ABT 12.

Published 02 May, 2018