Woolpack Dave's latest post on the above subject. It's a good post with a lot of sensible things said, particularly when he says "But I'm a beer writer, I can't say these things. Surely fine dining food must be able to match with beer?" He goes on to say "We need to think in the same way as the sommelier in a great restaurant. We need to think about what is bold enough to stand up to great food, what can match and compliment to provide an integrated experience. Without this approach we are still going to find a great gulf between the beer and restaurant trade.". Now you might well say as I first thought, "This is pretty obvious and none the less true for that". But the more I thought about it, the less convinced I became. In a fine dining experience, I rather fancy that most experienced fine diners know the sort of wine they like to accompany food, whether or not that wine is actually the best match. I also rather fancy that most do not rely on the sommelier for advice. I certainly wouldn't. I don't have an unlimited budget and wouldn't want to be a hostage to fortune, nor be embarrassing myself by whispering. "only up to £25" ( or whatever) when seeking advice. I suspect reliance on sommelier advice is a very top end trait only.
When we extrapolate that situation to beer, it becomes more complex still. At least in a fine dining restaurant, you can be reasonably sure the wine list is well chosen and the descriptions accurate. It isn't then that difficult to make an informed choice. When you substitute beer for wine, the matter becomes rather more complicated, as the list isn't so likely to be so well chosen - the expertise just doesn't exist in the restaurant trade and frankly, those who like beer with fine dining meals, are likely to jib at someone else's choice. There are many other factors too, that to my mind militate against it, not least of all lack of serious demand. But that needn't be the end of it.
Moving back down the scale, to pub, bistro or home dining, things become easier. A nice stout might sit well with a steak pie. Or an IPA just might cut through a curry and a good crisp, well made pilsner would suit most roast pork dishes very well. One will have one's own preferences, but at that end of things, you can afford to experiment. You can't really at the other. There to me is the difficulty. You would need a level of expertise at the selling end, together with a willingness to experiment and pay through the nose at the buying end, for this to work on any grand scale, which it really won't. This bird is not going to fly, though individual restaurants could make it work to a limited extent and at least offer choice.
Now, paraphrasing Dave, I'm a beer writer too and would like to see more availability on restaurant menus of beers that generically go with food; say a decent wheat beer, a top class, stout, a spicy Belgian, a proper pilsner, a hoppy and bitter IPA and a strong barley wine. The list isn't exhaustive, but it would be a good start. Regretfully not all will be British - the diversity just doesn't exist at the top end. Beer is a long way behind wine, we need to walk before we can run, but we do need to push this. Many beers are indeed a fine accompaniment to food and in his penultimate paragraph, Dave suggests a way forward. It is a good one.
Finally on a further note of agreement, barley wine and good cheese - there's a splendid match.
Photo nicked from Garrett Oliver's site, but that's OK. See next post which is reproduced from my personal blog, dated 02/10/2007. He gets a nice mention there.
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