A beer banquet

White wine with fish? Red wine with cheese? For centuries, it was beer that was drunk with food. So what happened? Probably a bit of snobbery! Beer is a great accompaniment to all foods but it’s often hard to try a number of different beers with food in a pub but the ‘lockdown’ gives you a great opportunity to experiment, so long as you have a range of bottles at the ready.

Last winter, we ran a course at the Bohemia at North Finchley, home to the London Brewing Company, to give people tips in making menu choices. This is a ‘taste’ of what we tried: six beers and seven foods; it turned out to be quite a banquet!

Firstly, everyone’s palate is different and what suits one person will not necessarily suit another. Using the cut, complement and contrast method (covered in my article here) you can work out why some things work and others don’t.

  • Cauliflower wings (cauliflower in tempura batter) provided the first course and was teamed with Veltins Lager, a 4.8% ABV German Pilsner. The combination reduced the saltiness and oily character of the wings and softened the beer making it less bitter and sweeter.
  • The next course was the eternal standby of fish fingers, accompanied by London Brewing Company’s Chuckaboo Pale Ale (4.2% ABV), which uses Rakau, Simcoe and Mandarina Bavaria hops. This again was a ‘cut’ with the bitter fruitiness of the beer cutting through the fat in the fish finger and, conversely, the fish finger enhanced the fruitiness of the beer.
  • Next on the menu were chicken wings, served with a separate Korean spicy sauce so that tasters could assess how a sauce can change the pairing. This time the beer was London Brewing Company’s Never Mind the Kent Hops (5.5% ABV) which, being slightly stronger, was chosen to cope with the stronger flavours. The strong, citrusy and tropical flavours from the Galaxy, Mosaic and Citra hops provided a perfect contrast to the meat and roast notes of the chicken and was bold enough to cope with the sauce. There was a three to one preference for the combination with the sauce as some tasters thought the beer was too strong for the chicken on its own but others disagreed!
  • The next challenge was matching two beers and two cheeses. The beers were a strong ale, Fuller’s 1845 (6.3% ABV) and London Brewing Company’s 100 Oyster stout (4.6% ABV). Overall, there was a preference for 1845 as working better with both the cheeses, although some preferred the stout with the stilton. To quote one table of tasters, ‘The 1845 had a rich malty character with marmalade and sultana notes but with some hoppy bitterness to provide balance. Its complexity coped well with both cheeses, contrasting with the creaminess of both of them. It was a close run thing but the cheddar just had the edge when it came to the preferred combination for this beer’. One other comment was that the nuttiness and fruitiness in the cheddar brought out the same flavours in the beer i.e. a complement.
  • Westmalle Dubbel (7% ABV) was the finale and tasters were given a chocolate brownie and some Oddfellows’ Morello Cherry Dark Chocolate. To summarise the feedback, ‘The dark roast and fruity notes complemented the chocolate but the brownie had the upper hand.’ Its chocolate flavours were also thought to complement the beer but the rich sweetness also provided a contrast to the bitterness, adding a bit more complexity.

A show of hands at the end of a hard afternoon’s eating and drinking gave the best pairing by a narrow head (but by no means universal) to 1845 and cheddar but why not try a few out for yourself?

Most of the beers tasted were draught but here are some alternatives from breweries around the Capital (in order of tasting):

1. Ora – Ermes Pilsner (4.7% ABV)

2. Twickenham – Naked Ladies (4.4% ABV)

3. Hackney – Boogie Van (5.5% ABV)

4. East London Brewing – Nightwatchman (4.7% ABV)

5. Anspach & Hobday – The Porter (6.7% ABV)

6. Five Points – Barrel Aged Grand Stout (12% ABV)

And you can get the chocolate online. Enjoy!

Christine Cryne

NB: At the time all writing, all of these breweries were doing deliveries but some only deliver to their local area.