Matching food with beer can lift a dish and showcase the complex nature of a really great brew. Our guide to pairing starts with that fizzy pint-sized favourite- the lager.
The food and beer matching movement is gathering real pace thanks to the craft beer explosion and some maverick thinking in the industry. A new market of quality artisan products all crammed with layers of flavour has struck a chord. Beer is not only as fine as wine, it can often handle more when it comes to the dinner table.
There are none! The flavour of beer is subjective - one person may pick up banana smells, while another some mild tropical notes. I like to contrast a cherry kriek beer with a chocolate fondant, but you might prefer a subtler approach. To start give your beer a really good sniff and let it coat your whole tongue, taking the time to absorb all the great flavour. Once you've picked up the main characteristics you're ready to roll.
Let's talk lager...
Lagers originate in 19th century Bohemia and modern variations include pilsner, helles and bock, often brewed in Germany or the Czech Republic. It's made with a bottom fermenting yeast then conditioned at a low temperature and is nearly always carbonated. Some breweries leave the fizzing process to nature, like Freedom, while others choose to help it along with gas once it's packaged in a bottle or keg.
Lagers are carbonated and that's where the similarities between the different products end. It's served cold but not so cold that the flavour is destroyed. It should be dry, a little bitter, flowery and bready, often with a caramel sweetness.
Match lager with...
Ed from Freedom Brewery says the caramel taste of a lager gives way to subtle bitterness, so it works well with delicately herbed chicken. The crisp drink will cut through the meat and cleanse the palate between mouthfuls.
Brooklyn Brewery maestro Garrett Oliver likes to match a quality traditional pilsner with shellfish. With calamari it scrubs the palate and leaves the squid's flavour intact, while oysters and crab have their flavours ramped up by the opposing blast.
If you're wanting to sample a selection of fine fromage, lager works well as an accompaniment because of its clean, palate-cleansing qualities. But while it won't overpower different variations, it's best with mild cheeses.
Salmon is a light fish, but it's also oily so not only does it stand up to lager, the contrast between the two will create a joyous feeling on the tongue. Salmon recipes with light Mediterranean flavours will work well.
When it comes to pudding, it's best to look for something light and refreshing. Lemon-based desserts will highlight any citrus notes in the lager, plus the pairing will mean the overall end to your meal doesn't get too heavy.
There's no denying lager is a perfect bed partner for hand-held street food. The sweetness of pork makes it a good match, but a hot dog sausage isn't as dense as a chop or steak so the drink doesn't have to work as hard.
- Take the time to search out a really great lager. The mass-produced fizzy yellow stuff on supermarket shelves can be packed with additives, so try out something organic from a specialist supplier. There are plenty of these to be found online. A quality brew with complex flavours will make it easier to pick up keynotes for matching with food.
- Garrett Oliver calls aroma "a beer's calling card" - flavour begins with smell so stick your nose well into the glass.
- Remember the word lager is just a gateway to a whole host of drinks - try out a golden pilsner, go lighter with a helles or try out something more menacing like a black schwarzbier.
- Don't forget you can use lager as an ingredient, like in beer-battered fish and chips. The carbonation ensures your batter will be extra crunchy and crisp!
Got a favourite pairing? Tell us about it below: