Banished to the pub, a victim of perceived blokeyness, beer has had a tough time being taken seriously as a sensible food pairing option beyond the realm of burgers and pork scratchings. But things are looking up. We are currently in the midst of a beer renaissance with many top restaurants getting on board.
The fact of the matter is, beer offers an exciting, versatile alternative that in many cases supersedes its vinous competition. Let's face it, with complex flavour profiles, lower alcohol content and a seemingly endless range of styles to chooses from, it was only a matter of time.
When pairing beer with food, there are a couple of key things to consider. Not rules, because we all know what they're good for, but 'guidelines' to get you thinking before the drinking.
The first thing to consider is the issue of harmony vs contrast. Like a squeeze of lemon, beer has the power to refresh by point of difference. A handy tool to have when dealing with heavy, fatty or cloying foods. Alternatively, it can serve to support a dish by mirroring textural, aromatic or flavour characteristics.
Which leads us to the next point – understanding these characteristics. Easier said than done I'm afraid, but a general rule of thumb is to match weight and flavour intensity like you would with wine. Try pairing beers that are similar in colour to the food. A rich roasty stout with red meat for example, or a light witbier with delicate seafood dishes.
If unsure, read labels and ask questions, there's a good chance your local bottle-o owner will be more than happy to divulge some beer-nerd wisdom. Here are four cracking beer and food pairings to get the ball rolling.
Kirin Megumi with banquet-style bo ssam
Cape Grim short rib bo ssam at Sake Restaurant in Sydney. Photo: James Alcock
Alcohol and chilli can be confrontational, which is the reason why wine often flounders in the presence of spicy dishes. There's nothing worse than calming a fiery vindaloo with Coonawarra cabernet. So, rather than reach for the riesling, go for a crisp, dry lager.
Light and refreshing, but with enough body not to be overshadowed, Kirin Megumi is an apt choice for your next bo ssam party. This classic Korean dish, designed to be enjoyed socially with drinks, has all the hallmarks of a good time. Slow-cooked pork shoulder, picked apart at the table and wrapped in lettuce leaves with kimchi, fresh oysters, spicy ssam sauce and an abundance of various delicious sides. The subtle fruitiness of noble hops finds home amongst layers of salt and spice and at a reasonable 4.5 per cent alcohol, you won't regret being a little bit over zealous with the ssam sauce.
James Boag's Premium Lager with goat's cheese tart and pan-fried cos heart
Caramelised shallot tart with goat's cheese & rocket. Just add grilled cos lettuce. Photographed by Marina Oliphant.
Lightly kilned pilsner malts, late hop additions and extended maturation at near freezing temperatures give this Aussie lager distinct European sensibility. Its elegant body and subtle fruity aromas share natural affinity with lighter seafood dishes, however, this drop also presents the perfect opportunity to showcase one of beers most endearing characteristics – it's power as a palate cleanser.
This smooth pale lager cuts through a rich, buttery goat's cheese tart with effortless finesse, lightening up the whole experience with its crisp body and refreshing dry finish. A subtle underlying malt sweetness echoes the lightly caramelised notes of the cos heart to bring mid-palate harmony.
James Boag's Premium Lager.
White Rabbit Sour Red with Chinese red-braised duck
Red-braised duck with chestnuts. Photo: Jason Loucas
In the Flemish red ale tradition, this brew develops its depth and complexity over long, slow spontaneous fermentation in pre-loved wine barrels. Seductive aromas of red fruit and earth make way for a generous sweet-sour palate of toffee malt with brightening acidity. With so much going on in the glass, a pairing of equal profundity is in order.
The seductive flavours of Chinese red-braised dishes perfectly mirror the sweet-sour complexity on show here. Dried mandarin peel and sweet spices work the high notes, while soy and dried mushroom provide underlying umami depth. This barrel-aged beauty's drying acidity has no problem cutting through fattier meats, making duck an ideal choice. A serendipitous harmony from two different sides of the world.
White Rabbit Sour Red.
Malt Shovel Brewers Interceptor Black IPA with binchotan grilled wagyu short rib and shiitake mushrooms
Beer brings roasted, caramelised flavours to a food pairing that wine simply cannot deliver. The alluring umami character we all know and love is a result of the Maillard reaction, the term for the non-enzymic browning that adds colour and flavour to our food when cooked. Unfortunately for winemakers, it is unwise to roast grapes before making wine. Grain, on the other hand, is a different story. This pairing plays on the harmonious relationship between roasted grain and grilled meat.
Boldly bitter and weighing in at a hefty 6.1 per cent alcohol, the Interceptor Black IPA is more than capable of standing up to indulgently rich wagyu short rib. Go for Japanese binchotan charcoal, as its clean burn and intense heat bring an extra dimension of smoke and caramelisation to the party, especially when coaxed by regular basting with soy. And don't be stingy with the seasoning, as salt has the power to subdue bitterness and accentuate body in the beer. And what better to cap off this Maillard madness? Exactly, more umami. Grilled shiitake mushrooms seal the deal.
Malt Shovel Interceptor.
You can explore your own gourmet food and beer pairings at Streetfood! Laneway! Music! at Brisbane Good Food Month, Friday, July 28th
This story was brought to you by Lion Nathan.