Saturday 17 October 2009

Beer with food

For those waiting for the second instalment of the barley wine seminar proceedings I'm afraid you'll have to wait till tomorrow. Trying to accurately portray what others have said turns out to be a whole lot more difficult than just spurting out my own incoherent thoughts. Today I need to be in the kitchen for a while so I have to blog quickly.

Food though; we talk about beer with food and beer and food matching. Great idea that is seldom executed very well. I know we're generally rubbish at it here and I'm not sure how we can improve. One of the problems we have is a constantly changing menu and cask selection. Updating the beer blackboard every day and getting to the point of updating the menu is as much as we get to.

I've always been interested in good food. I don't blog about it here very much but have openly admitted to being a food snob. Indeed, I entered the industry primarily interested in food, not beer. That's changed quite a lot these days as beer seems to have taken over my life, but I still have a keen interest in food and would like to see the two working together more. We visited the Restaurant Show at Earls Court for a couple of hours on Tuesday. It's run it's course for us at the moment, it seems to present nothing new, although the economic situation over the last 2 years has dented the new innovation that we go to find. Certainly the size of the exhibition is much smaller than previously.

Every year we have visited the restaurant show. It's given us some great ideas about food and other aspects of running a food led business. Wine and spirits are often being exhibited at tasting sessions as a key part of the selling process. There are interestingly also some of the PubCo's exhibiting and even this year a whole competition for Gastro Pub chefs. As for beer....what beer?

Shepherd Neame have been there, and were this year, but only showing off their brewed under licence beers. As I think one friend of mine has commented "Watch out for BUL", an unfortunate acronym I feel. No sign of Spitfire or Bishops finger and why not? Well I think I know why, and I'll try to explain.

Having tasted some fantastic barley wines with some classic cheese styles the day before what I found further confirmed the main barrier to beer with food. The barley wines matched the cheeses so well, much better than any standard beer might and showing up the key problem with standard British beer and food matching. Standard session pub beer does not go with food. No, don't argue, it jolly well does not.

OK, maybe with your steak and ale pie, gravy and peas, maybe with your curry and rice or possibly with battered cod and chips, which is why we think about these foods in pubs. But when it comes to better quality food these thin, watery and relatively bland beers just fight against the food and destroy the joy of both. At best a regular session bitter acts as a palate cleanser and might, if you are lucky, contrast with good effect, but the best food I have ever enjoyed has always been with wine.

But I'm a beer writer, I can't say these things. Surely fine dining food must be able to match with beer? Yes, I very much believe it can. 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.

At the barley wine seminar the beers we tasted with the cheese blended and complimented bringing out the best in both. I'm not sure I would go quite as far as saying that the sum was greater than the parts but at least it was moving in that direction. The reason in my view is the fact that these barley wine beers were generally stronger and matured, and the similarities to a good Vin du Bourgogne, for instance, are not lost on me.

Funnily enough, as I type this I get a comment on twitter from Jeff Pickthall. He ate a very nice meal last night but he had "3 ales all fresh but all very similar. Had pigeon starter and rabbit main + Hawkshead and Ennerdale bitters but craved Belgies". Thanks Jeff, spookily on queue. For me, with this type of food the Belgian beers just win hands down, although I would also settle for a barley wine.

There are several very good beer wholesalers in this country. I have never seen any at the Restaurant Show. Come on beer industry, lets start joining in with the restaurant trade rather than moaning about them taking trade from pubs. Lest start producing more beers that better match food and get them out there into the restaurant trade.

If any beer wholesaler wants a passionate speaker, who also has a little experience with food and understands what might turn on a food operator to the right type of beer, I'd be interested in helping at the next restaurant show.


Mark, said...

I don't find beer and food easy to match up, but it does seem the richer the beer the easier it is to find something it complements.

Porters and stouts are a regular match with M&S mussels in our house, and curry with an IPA is better than with lager.

I'm saving some aged Orval for some good cheese but no idea what to actually buy!

Rob said...

Orval ay? I would personally try an pair it with salmon based dishes but im sure there are some good cheeses out there for Orval.

Unknown said...

Mark, Indeed an IPA does work better than lager with a curry. Porter and stout is of course the classic with shell fish, although I'm not as convinced having tried it.

I'd agree with Rob on the Orval. It's quite a sour and acidic beer akin to a crisp white wine. Fish suit it very well indeed. Cheese not so well, in my humble opinion.

BeerReviewsAndy said...

Great post Dave, funny you should mention it im having steak pie and chips for tea - will have to see what's in the beer cupboard that suit it ;o)

have you thought of doing a pairing event at your place? i for one would love to learn more!

on the subject of your place, will you still be open weekends in November as it's unlikely we will get down this month - im dying to try your blue cheese bomb thingy

Unknown said...


Yes, we'll be open every weekend in November, unless something tragic happens of course.

But we'll be very busy with a wedding 6th - 8th. We probably won't be doing food except for the wedding guests.

Blue Bore Bomb and Tokyo* - No contest!

BeerReviewsAndy said...

No worries, I better start saving if that's the pairing u recomend lol.

Probs won't be til mid to end of nov as swmbo has to sort out when she is working.

Rob said...

You mention in the post Dave that your place isn't very good with beer and food. But when I visited I had the greatest gastonomic beer and food pairings I have ever came across in a commercial establishment. You had something at the bar for at least 50% of the dishes, the Belgians being big players. Usually I have to ether make do with a sub-standard beer selection or try pairings at home, but your place blew everything else out the water due to the abnormally high standard of the food available, and excellent beer range.

StringersBeer said...

Stout is a regular match with corned beef and pickle sandwiches in our house.

Jeff Pickthall said...

I'm on Beef Wellington with Jaipur this evening.

The diet starts tomorrow.

Unknown said...

Rob, when I say we're not very good I'm simply stating that we don't give customers much guidance. Having said that, Tandleman points out that everybody likes something different and it's more about providing a good choice, which I hope we do.

Corned Beef and Stout, that works for me.

Not sure about Jaipur and Beef Wellington as a match but were the two plonked in front of me I'd happily consume both together without complaint.

Beef Wellington? I really should have a go at making that sometime.

G. Chapman said...

I'd like to offer a suggestion if I may - it's unusual to be able to communicate with the owner of a pub like this and this post rang a bell with something I've often thought about while eating in pubs. The difficulty I always have does I think boil down to the slight confusion between the etiquette/norms/rules of a restaurant and a pub. For example everyone knows that in a restaurant you sit down and a waiter will bring your drinks, whereas in a pub you go to the bar. So when I go to a pub to eat the instinct is to go to the bar first to get a drink. Indeed what always happens is myself and my girlfriend will go into a new place, look around and by instinct go to the bar to get a drink while we get a feel for the place and if it looks good have a look at the menu.

I think that's the first difficulty of matching food and beer in a pub, in that people who go into a pub for food will get a drink before they've even looked at the menu.

My second point (and I know everyone will be different in this regard but nonetheless there will be other people like me) is that after I've had a first pint, no matter how good the beer is, I start thinking "do I want to fill myself up with another pint and risk spoiling the food?" For example my grandma has the same problem, at her age she can't drink & eat the same and although she loves her beer she'll switch to wine simply because it's less volume and she can then eat normally and enjoy the food. I do wonder if this may be a regular, unspoken issue people have - not wanting to "fill up on beer" when wine is less by volume.

Sorry for the length of this post!, it's just hit a spot with me as I always have this dilemma in pubs.

Anyway, if I may, how about a suggestion rather than just listing problems! I won't suggest types of beer as you and other commenters are far more knowledgeable on that subject - I'll drink anything ;-) What I have often thought is that if a pub has, say, three good ales on (as yours usually seems to) I would like to try them all but at the same time I'm also paying a fair bit for some good food so don't want to spoil that. It would be great to be able to order some food and get 2 or 3 halves along with it (pricing at your discretion obviously but as per normal bar prices or it would be prohibitive and pointless). You get to try all the beers, get that strange satisfaction of knowing everything's paid for (might also work well for people eating out as a present for their partner) and also you're not having too much beer to feel full before your food.

In conclusion my main point is regarding the volume of beer when compared to wine or spirits, which I do believe for many people is the main issue when eating in pubs. If you could match up some good beers with volumes comparable to wines, I think your reputation would spread very quickly as an even better place to go for food and beer enthusiasts.

Sorry for the lengthy comment and keep up your enjoyable blog.