Matching beer and food
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Chef Peter Evans from Hugo's in Sydney

Chef Peter Evans from Hugo's in Sydney [©Hausmann Communications Pty Ltd]

The opportunities to match beer and food are endless and while there are not any iron-clad rules, there are some basic guidelines to help even the most inexperienced beer connoisseur in the kitchen.

“The first step to matching beer with food is to smell the aroma of the beer before tasting it, and really concentrate on the flavours,” explains chef and restaurateur, Peter Evans of Hugo’s Sydney. “Next take a sip, together with a small amount of food you wish to match it with, breathing in a little air through the beer. It’s important to see if the flavours highlight, sharpen, disagree or even overpower the food.”

Evans loves a cold beer and says over the past few years he's come to appreciate how well it goes with food. "Different beers can be matched with relatively little knowledge, to really amplify the flavour of the meal, making a more enjoyable dining experience.”

A good starting point when pairing beer with food is to use the three Cs: Complement, Contrast and Cut, whilst bearing in mind a good match does not necessarily mean the two have to be similar in taste. Different flavours and complexities, when combined can still produce a really fantastic combination.

"When "complementing" food and beer, they should have similar qualities and flavours. Delicately flavoured food, such as a seafood risotto or baby cos salad can be complemented by a clean and refreshing pilsner or wheat beer. Alternatively, match more flavour-intense dishes like wood-fire grilled beef or apple crumble with an ale like Leffe Blond, which is equally full flavoured and bitter."

Evans recommends matching BBQ Salmon with Salsa Verde Butter with a lager, such as Stella Artois, the combination of the smoky BBQ and sweet salsa flavours partner well with the bitterness and malty notes of the lager.

If "contrasting", foods that are aromatic and flavoursome such as hot, spicy Thai or Indian, require a beer that offers refreshment, which will balance out the spiciness and dissolve the heat of the food in the mouth. Contrasting can surprisingly work best at the end of the meal too such as matching a rich chocolate torte for example, with a dry, roasted malt stout or wheat beer; extreme opposites in flavour, yet together the sweetness and roasted flavours marry extremely well.

Finally "cut" through rich, creamy, buttery or heavy foods with a bitter lager or smooth ale. The beer will cleanse the palate and leave it feeling refreshed. A strong mature cheddar or soft Danish blue could be perfectly matched alongside a sweet ale with a roasted malt character, which would cut through the creamy consistency and pungent cheese flavours.

Another important factor is carbonation, which is more pronounced in wheat beers and pilsners, compared to other beers like traditional British ales. Select a beer more pronounced in carbonation when enjoying deep-fried, spicy or fatty foods as it will cleanse the palate between each mouthful. In order to avoid a potential clash, a beer with medium to high bitterness like a pilsner or generously bittered lager wouldn’t be best served alongside food, which is tart, acidic or slightly on the sour side, such as a dish that includes mayonnaise or aioli, instead a pale ale, delicately hopped lager or wheat beer would make a better choice.

Evans encourages first time cooks right through to experienced culinary experts to have a go at mastering the art. “Armed with basic knowledge, anyone can have a go at complementing their favourite beers with a selection of foods, there’s a lot of fun to be had combining different flavours and textures and of course applying personal taste. Most importantly look for combinations that work well for you and then surprise your guests at your next dinner party!”

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July 01st, 2008
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