A Cicerone’s Definitive Guide To Beer And Food Matching
Wine snobs, take note: Beer matching is on the rise. The complexity of beer and the sheer number of styles now available in most bottle shops means beer can be matched with even the unlikeliest of meals.
Given the attention wine and food pairings receive, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that beer can be forgotten as a dining companion. Yet the complexity of beer and the sheer number of styles now available in most bottle shops means beer can be matched with even the unlikeliest of meals.
Ben Hetherington is a Certified Cicerone, a beer expert whose trained in finding faults in beer, telling styles apart, and knowing how best to serve it. Hetherington works for the Institute of Beer, helping others pass their own Cicerone exams and become beer experts just like him.
He also works as bartender at Melbourne craft beer institute, Carwyn Cellars and freelances to train bar staff on how to carefully consider beer and food. Hetherington has a few rules when it comes to matching beer with food, from thinking about intensity of flavours, to how ingredients are cooked and what you’re trying to achieve with a paring.
“In the world of Cicerone we talk about the three Cs – cut, contrast and complement,” Hetherington says.
“With complement you are looking for complementary flavours. So, an imperial stout which has a lot of coffee and chocolate flavours, you would match with something like a chocolate mudcake.”
To explain cut he prefers to talk about texture of a meal, rather than just flavour.
“So, if you have a really fatty meal you want [a beer] with either bitterness or high carbonation; those two things actually cleanse the fat off your tongue and refresh your palate before the next bite.”
“Contrast is something I find the most difficult of the three: it’s flavours your food and your beer don’t share. The way I like to think about contrasting is picture the flavours which are different but you already know work – like dill and salmon – and apply it to pairing beer with food.”
With those ideas in mind, here’s a Cicerone’s guide to impressing your dinner guests.
Beer for on arrival
For the first beer of the evening, Hetherington says choosing a beer with a low bitterness is essential. Our palates quickly adjust to bitterness and it’s hard to go back to subtle foods straight after enjoying a big and bold beer.
Pilsners can be a wise choice since the pale lager has a soft, rounded bitterness and some sweet undertones which work well early in the evening.
But the Belgian farmhouse-style ale known is the Saison is hard to look past as a beer impress anyone on arrival. With a low bitterness and high carbonation, it’s a beer which looks more at home in a champagne class than a pint.
“It’s really dry as well so there is no residual sweetness which is going to subtract from the sweet elements in the food,” Hetherington says.
Beer Examples: There’s a few readily available examples of Saisons in all good bottleshops, but Bridge Road’s Chevalier Saison and La Sirène’s Saison are great Australian versions of the classic style.
Appetisers and entrees
For lighter meals and entrees – particularly any involving seafood – wheat beers are a perfect showcase of how to complement flavours.
“Any seafood and hefeweizen [German-style wheat beers] works pretty well since it matches the intensity of flavour,” Hetherington says. “Hefeweizens aren’t too full on a beer and generally seafood is a subtler meat.”
Any lightly-cooked white seafood served with lemon – including calamari – also works well with Belgian witbiers, which often have spices and citrus added.
“In that instance you’d have complementary flavours,” Ben says. “Because you’ve got lemon and Belgian witbiers are brewed with orange peel.”
Beer Examples: Weihenstephaner Hefe is one of the world’s oldest and most famous German wheat beers – and for good reason. Locally, 3 Ravens White, brewed in Melbourne, closely follows the Belgian interpretation of the style.
The main course is where things get interesting due having to think about the type of dish, any meat included, and how that meat is cooked.
Hetherington says a personal favourite of his is pairing Mexican food made with chipotle with Black IPAs. Black India Pale Ales (though something of an oxymoron) are a dark beer brewed with a prominent hop profile. Hetherington says any style of cooking which uses chilli, cumin, garlic or paprika matches well with the unusual beer style.
“Black IPAs are quite complex, they’ve got the malt complexity and the hop complexity along with bitterness and a full body,” he says. “You’ve also got a lot of different flavours hitting different angles in Mexican cuisine.”
For added complexity it’s worth including your chosen Black IPA to the meal while cooking, with hops able to bring out certain flavours from spicy food.
“You need to be careful not to have an IPA that’s too bitter, but a bit of the bitterness can bring out spice in a really nice way,” Hetherington says.
When served, Black IPA and chipotle tacos are a perfect example of contrast done well, with the chocolate notes from the beer’s malt profile matching the spice and aromas of the meal.
Beer Examples: For the beer of choice, any Black IPA (or hop-forward porter) will do wonders with Feral Brewing Co’s Karma Citra being a modern Australian classic.
While nobody is ever going to leave a table disappointed after enjoying a rich chocolate cake paired with an equally rich and complex imperial stout, Hetherington says it’s worth being more experimental with dessert.
“It’s a tried and true classic example and its brilliant but thinking outside the box is always a good idea,” he says.
A personal favourite of Hetherington’s is pana cotta made with raspberries paired with a Raspberry Berliner Weisse. Berliner Weisse are a northern German style of sour beer, which Napoleon’s soldiers are said to have referred to as the Champagne of the North for the beer’s high carbonation.
The acidity and carbonation of the Berliner Weisse cuts through and cleanses any fattiness from panna cotta, while the raspberry the desert matches seamlessly with the raspberry from the beer.
Beer Examples: In theory, any light and tart beer made with fruit has the potential to pair with the same fruit in a desert. Yet for this occasion, Boatrocker’s Miss Pinky, a beer brewed with hundreds of kilos of raspberries, proves to be the perfect match.
Published 30 October, 2017