Saturday, 17 October 2009

Food with Beer

I've just read 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.


Unknown said...

Nice retort.

My comments about thinking like a sommelier is more to do with what we choose as beer list designers. I think you are right that many restaurants who have a beer list don't do it very well. All the more reason for the industry to look at making inroads to the restaurant trade.

Neville Grundy said...

I don't go to restaurants often, but when I do, I usually drink wine because there's no beer I like. The likes of Fosters, Stella Artois and perhaps John Smith's Smooth along with bottles of American Bud will usually be on offer.

So I agree with you both. I assume you're referring only to bottles, as I can't see many restaurants coping with or selling enough cask.

Whorst said...

Steak Pie is fine dining? The food items you've mentioned are peasant food. I'm not complaining, I like peasant food. There's a saying, "If you want to live like a king, you eat like a peasant." I don't believe there will ever be a time when someone(maybe Avery)orders a craft beer served in a wine glass to accompany their Veal Gaetano splashed with wine and smothered in wild mushrooms. Not going to happen. Who really wants to eat a bunch of pompous crap anyway? I do fine on Mexican, Thai and Indian. All of them peasant food, all of them worthy of beer to wash down the fire. Mexican beer is so bad though, I opt for a Margarita.

Tandleman said...

No Kevin. Steak Pie was moving downscale.

Dave -It wasn't meant to be a retort as such, as I agree with most of what you say, more a sort of further exploration of your hypothesis.

RedNev - Yes bottles.

Whorst said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Whorst said...

Ah yes, you got me there. The old down the scale trick. My words on peasant food are still relevant.

Tandleman said...

Well I'm a peasant mostly, or used to be anyway.

Unknown said...

Perhaps "retort" was the wrong word, although I did preface it with "nice" to try and indicate that I liked it.

I'd like to see the option of cask in some restaurants. I really don't think it's that crazy an idea. I know of at least one gastro pub that has moved so gastro that it's trade is 99% restaurant based. I know it still turns over a huge amount of cask.

Still, the main point is that in most restaurants the beer selection is so predictable it's unbelievable. Why have a large wine menu and just crap beer? Doesn't make sense considering there is now so much available in bottles.

Nowt wrong with steak pie, peasant food or not. Stout with that please.

Erlangernick said...

I think you lot still have your work cut out for you against the prevailing mentality that food and beer don't mix, period. Still, progress--IIRC, you did at least not fall over from shock when I plopped a Kellerbier down in front of you during a sausage frenzy a couple of months ago, even if you didn't touch it until after you'd cleaned your plate.

And what could POSSIBLY go together better than Bratwurst, Sauerkraut, dunkles Brot, und Kellerbier?

This whole business of heavenly matched pairings--for both wine and beer--is overhyped IMO, bordering on posing and suggesting an inferiority complex against wine snobbery. Fisch/seafood/white meat or lighter sauces, white wine. Otherwise, probably red. Beer is far more forgiving.

Tandleman said...

The kellar thing is different though. There the food was a beer blotter and had an entirely different purpose.

Nonetheless, I more or less agree with all of what you say, but I still think a few decently chosen beers should be on every drinks list. It's about choice and preference. Why should I be steered to wine every time I go to a restaurant?

I particularly agree about "heavenly matched pairings" as we all have different ideas, not only of beer and food, but heaven.

Now if only I had a krug or six of Roppelt's kellarbier coming today. That might be a sort of heaven and sod the bloody food.

Erlangernick said...

Sorry that I failed to agree outright that good beer should be far more common in restaurants and eateries of all kinds. Aye to that, mates!

Hell, I wish I had better beer at places where I eat here. Like our 5 favourite local Wop places: they all have draught Pils (most local, one Beck's), one also has a draught crap Dunkles from Tucher, one has a drinkable Kitzmann Kellerbier, but the best are the couple with bottled Schlösser & Diebels near-pseudo Alt. (Though all have bottled Weizen & even leichtes Weizen for the missus.) Bier with salads or antipasti, then usually wine for il secundi.

There's nary a KrautTV show about Bier that fails to mention beer's appetite-whetting traits, come to think of it. They associate beer with food, as the Lord intended.

WRT Roppelt's, I'm torn between asking him to fill 5 litre keglets for me to get through the winter or not. OTOneH, I'd have it at home to enjoy. OTOH, it would tarnish the experience of only being able to enjoy it after expending the effort of getting to the KellEr.

DonS said...

A couple of things come to mind here, not least among them being your upcoming trip to Belgium, where there are several venues that make good food and beer matching seem effortless. I think it's been a while since you've been to North America's Pacific Northwest, and I don't think you ever encountered the alluring combination of a well-chosen beer list with quality white-tablecloth dining that is the experience at Higgins in Portland, or the pleasures of good food and beer at Chambar in Vancouver, BC.

It is also a Yank who is behind the Cicerone program (, intended to be an education and certification program for those who wish to develop a level of knowledge regarding beer that parallels that of a wine sommelier.

And so it goes.