Culinary Acrobatics: Test your palate with these unusual beer and food combinations

Beer and food matching relies almost entirely on two simple principles – complimenting flavours or contrasting flavours.

Which is a fancy way of saying you either choose a beer which shares some similar flavours with the dish, so perhaps a rich, dark Imperial Stout with a gooey chocolate brownie, or you go in the opposite direction and pick something which contrasts the flavours in order to highlight them. So perhaps a sharp cherry kriek beer - which would work amazingly well with that same chocolate brownie, but for entirely different reasons.

So that’s the starting point, the basics. But where’s the fun in sticking to the rules all the time? Some flavour combinations sound a little bit left-field but actually work very well. Here’s my attempt to challenge your taste buds into trying something new, with a food and beer combination that you might not have given a go before.

Blue cheese, mango chutney, Double IPA

A strong, full-flavoured blue cheese such as a well aged stilton with all of its salty, tangy, umami laden flavours, might not sound like the perfect partner to mango chutney, typically the lubricant for a poppadom, but the combination really works. The sweetness of the chutney brings out the rich fruitiness of the cheese in a way that has to be tried to be believed.

Add a third dimension to that combination, with the inclusion of a fruity, hoppy American style double IPA on the side, and you’ve got flavour fireworks. American style Double IPAs share a fruity, mango-laden sweetness with the chutney, but they also bring out the best in funky cheese, and are one of the few beer styles that can handle the level of flavour going on in this combo (which is great on a burger).

Beer suggestions: Magic Rock Brewing Co - Cannonball, Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA, Brewdog Hardcore IPA, Great Divide Brewing Co – Hercules Double IPA, Stone – Ruination IPA

Strawberries, Basil, Saison

Fresh, seasonal British strawberries are something extremely special. With a much more intense, perfumed flavour than those grown in other warmer parts of the world year-round, our home-grown strawberries are well worth the wait.

One unusual but astounding combination is strawberries with fresh torn basil. The strawberry juice seems to coax the sweetness out of the fresh basil, which in turn highlights the aromatics in British strawberries beautifully. Only the tiniest touch of sugar is needed – if at all – yet this still works perfectly as a refreshing summer dessert and isn’t in the least bit ‘savoury’.

Add a crisp, fragrant saison to the mix and you’ve got something which is the perfect end to a meal. The herbaceous quality of a good saison just works amazingly well with the strawberry and basil combination. Every ingredient seems to bring out something different, surprising and delicious in the others – which is the basis of any truly amazing food and beer combination.

Beer suggestions: Brasserie Dupont – Saison Dupont, Ilkley Brewery – Siberia, Brew By Numbers – Classic Saison, The Kernel – Saison, Brasserie Fantôme - Fantôme Saison.

Lamb Rogan Josh, Porter

Indian curries that have a tomato based sauce such as Rogan Josh are rich, heavy, spicy and fragrant all at once, making them a difficult dish to pair. After trying various different pale ales, bitters, amber ales, IPAs and everything in between, it was porter that I found the surprising match for this dish.

There’s just something about a slightly smokey porter which works amazingly well with the tomatoes and spicing in the dish, but the savoury style of the beer also dovetails nicely with the slow cooked lamb too.

Whilst a lager or pale beer gets completely bowled over by a curry, leaving the beer tasting of little but carbonation and sweetness, a good porter has enough guts to stand up to the bold flavours whilst remaining refreshing and drinkable.

Beer suggestions: Anchor – Porter, Fuller’s – London Porter, The Kernel – Export India Porter, Beavertown – Smogrocket, Samuel Smith’s – Taddy Porter.

Brown Sugar, Brisket, Black Lager

Beef and brown sugar don’t on the face of it sound like happy bedfellows, but when giving that brisket a long slow barbecuing with lots of seasonings and sugar, then things start to sound a whole lot more appetising.

Start by rubbing a good sized brisket (unrolled is better) with lots of dark brown sugar, salt and black pepper. Leave this to marinade for a few hours, or overnight, before giving it a long slow roast in the oven. For an even better flavour use a smoker or a really low temp barbecue with a lid – an easy way to do this is to push the white coals to one side and add some oak chips to create smoke.

A black lager is a match made in heaven with BBQ brisket. Having the perfect balance of smoke, sweet dark malt and hop bitterness which manages to compliment and contrast with the sweet and savoury beef all at once. Astoundingly good.

Beer suggestions: Budweiser Budvar – Dark Lager, Krombacher – Dark, Primator – Premium Dark, Bernard – Dark, Full Sail Brewing Co – Session Black.

The above first featured in the new look Ferment magazine, which this month is particularly good, including a great piece from Matt over at Total Ales.


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