Food pairing with beer has become a thing in recent years mainly due to the greater diversity of flavour available within beers when compared to wine. I first came across food pairing in Bruges where a sweet brown beer suddenly popped its head up as part of a set menu with a baked camembert. We had come across this beer a few nights before and thought it tasted like flat panda cola so weren’t best pleased to see it again. However with the cheese it was amazing. The acidity in the cheese balanced the sweetness in the beer and I was taught a lesson. This case was extreme in that the beer needed the food to provide balance whereas in the UK we tend to want the beers that taste good on their own. So when it comes to pairing beers that already taste good, we are aiming to match (or bridge) subtle flavours in the beer with similar flavours in the food. For no reason whatsoever we decided it would be a good idea to put our food pairing skills to the test using locally brewed beer and a typical Christmas Dinner.
For a prawn cocktail starter you need a light beer that will not overpower the delicate flavours of the dish. In addition there are some key flavour matches like lemon and sweetness that could be used to bridge the food and the beer. We’ve gone down the lemon route on this occasion with a selection of more delicate but citrusy beers.
The Grainstore Osprey was light and paired with the citrus flavours while the Miletree Mosaica was a little more hoppy pairing well with the Cayenne pepper – a good choice if you like it a little more spicy. The KCB B5 overpowered the prawns but would be a good choice for meatier dishes like Pate. Drovers from Round Corner was a little sweeter with zesty citrus and tropical aromas so paired well on two counts.
There is a lot going on flavour wise in a Christmas dinner and much of that depends on the gravy. We had a very rich gravy made from the fat and juices so decided to select beers with a bitterness to cut through the fatty gravy. The Aromantica and Bear Island did just that but were a little too powerful. The savoury Rye flavour in the Pale Ryeno matched well with the herby stuffing but was again perhaps a touch powerful for Turkey. The Millstone had more sweetness and with a lower bitterness paired well. The more powerful beers would be better suited to red meats. You could also pair based on the sweetness of the meat for example using Milds and Stouts with beef.
For Christmas pudding we selected beers with malt sweetness to match the desert. The Baltic Porter from 8 Sail paired well with the fruitiness of the desert but was not sweet enough to fully match (although definitely a contender for when the blue cheese comes out). Likewise the Mackinaw from Round Corner had the sweet malt but the higher hop level and carbonation enhanced the boozey flavours of the brandy sauce. The Egyptian Cream from Nene Valley matched the cream of the brandy sauce increasing the velvet mouth feel but didn’t have the robust fruit to pair with the pudding. The Imperial Stout from Hopshackle paired with the fruit and the sweetness to make complex flavours that enhanced both pudding and pint (well 275ml to be exact).
In many ways we have made it hard for ourselves in that our local beers tend to be well balanced for drinking so they lack the obvious imbalance of some continental beers that would make pairing easier.
All the beers featured and more are available at www.ThirstBourne.co.uk and every beer has independent tasting notes from ourselves as well as the brewery’s.
This should give you a good idea of the flavours that can be matched with your Christmas menu. The beers at ThirstBourne are sourced exclusively from Microbreweries within 25 miles of Bourne. Please don’t buy beer at the supermarket, help support our local Breweries either directly or through excellent independent retailers like ThirstBourne.
I hope that we have inspired you to have a go and try our or your own pairings. You just need to imagine the flavours that you want to combine but it is only when you try it then you discover whether it works in practice or not. The proof is in the (Christmas) pudding. Give it a go – the worst that can happen is that you drink a lot of beer with your Christmas dinner which doesn’t sound too bad to me.
Paul @ ThirstBourne