Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Beer & Food

The previous post seemed to be of interest to people, so I thought I would post a slightly altered part of an article that I wrote for Asia Pacific Breweries trade publication "What's Brewing". I would be remiss not to thank Garrett Oliver for his assistance through his book ("The Brewmaster's Table") and his articles on food & beer pairings.

When people discuss food and beverage pairing they usually look first to wine, but here in Southeast Asia where the flavor range is so varied and often involve hot spice flavors, or some times intense herb notes, wine is not the best choice. Beer is the beverage to look to. The reasons that beer pairs so well with the food here are several. First, beer has a wider range of flavors to work with. Beers flavor pallet ranges from sweet to sour to bitter, from bready, to caramel, to toffee roasted and even smokiness. Beer can be fruity, spicy, citrus, and herbal, it can have flavors and aromas contributed from it’s four major ingredients (malt, hops, water and yeast – compare to wines ones ingredient) and there can be many fruits, spices and other flavorings added to be - sadly wine can never find that broad of a pallet. For example you will never find a roasty flavor or note in wine.

Another great advantage of beer it that it is carbonated. The carbonation in beer helps cool and refresh the palate, the carbon dioxide bubbles lifts the oils of the spices or herbs off your tongue and it thus prepares you mouth for the next bite. Beer’s carbonation can also work wonders with heavy or “fatty” flavors like in cheese, or rich and heavy sauces.

When you pair any beverage with a food you want to look for three things; impact, compliment or contrast. Compliment and contrast are opposites approaches, and impact is related to both, and it is important to keep in mind. Remember the goal is to enhance the meal, both the beer and the food should be improved by the pairing.

We will start with impact. Impact is the strength of the beverage or food’s impression on your palate. To have a successful pairing, you’ll need to match the impact of the beverage to the impact of the food. You want to create a delicate dance and interplay between the food and the beverage; you don’t want to create a football tackle. A big complex stout will overwhelm delicate steamed fish, and a lighter delicate flavored beer may seem to disappear when paired with spicy Thai or Malay foods. Plan to pair light bitterness for more delicate dishes, and save bitter or darker beers for richer more complex items. Impact is a fairly simple matter–if you think a beer and a dish are pretty well matched as related to impact, then you’re probably right.

Find a compliment between the food and beverage can be a little trickier but when done right create the ultimate pairings. Look for flavors in both the beverage and the food that will harmonizes and accentuates each other, look for a complementary “hook” between them. As mentioned beers can have a wide range of flavors and all of these can may find opportunity to complement, “hook” or match flavors in foods.
Take caramel, for example. Anything that’s roasted, grilled, sautéed or fried develops some flavors of caramel and sweetness. In this case, caramel is the flavor “hook” –we want to find similar caramel flavors in a beer. A perfect match would be Killkeny or London Pride – each of these beers have distinct caramel notes and sweet malty flavor. Roast pork, steaks, barbecued ribs, and even grilled vegetables can work well with malty, caramel beers (beers that are Amber, red, brown and even black in color). One of my favorite beer parings is the Archipelago Trader’s Brown Ale with a deep roasty beef Rendang. The roasted meat pair perfectly with the roastiness of the brown ale and the ginger in the Rendang picks up on the young ginger we use in the beer.
Other good pairings are roasted meats or other dishes that have a brown sauce would be good with a stout or a dark wheat beer. Any dishes that has flavors of char, coffee or chocolate are a good candidate to match brown ales, porter and stouts. The chocolate flavors in a beer will link up perfectly with the chocolate flavors in the sauce, and deserts and sweet dishes as well.

On of my favorite pairings is a smooth chocolaty stout and vanilla ice cream - it does not sound like it would work but the roastiness of the stout blend perfectly with the soft smooth ice cream.

Wheat beers are very versatile. Wheat beers pair light hop bitterness with brisk carbonation, light acidity and bright fruit flavors for a combination that can match a wide variety of dishes. Wheat beers go great with salads, where their low bitterness and light fruit allow a nice pairing with delicate greens. Wheat beers are friendly to acidity, so vinegar or vinaigrette dressings don’t clash for similar reasons, wheat beers are a great accompaniment to fish and shellfish like crab, oysters, shrimp, prawns and lobster and they work fairly well with medium spicy dishes too.

Contrasting is a little easier to do but the results are not usually quite as interesting. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the complimentarily flavors in some types of beers and spicy foods – so with a few exceptions it is better to contrast when pairing these food and beer. For most spicy dishes - like Thai, Malay or Indian - use a crisp sharp or even bitter beer. With a good lager beer the clean sharpness will “cut” the spices, it will cleanse, cool and “refresh” the palate, and it will prepare your taste buds for the next bite. Tiger beer and chili crab is a classic example of this. For more roasty spiced dishes, like tandori or chicken tikka try a more full bodied beer like the sharp and hoppy IPA. These are good examples of contrasting the beer with the foods.

So the next time you are out for a meal with your friends or family you can say to the server with confidence – “please I’ll have a beer with my meal, it will pair nicely with our first dish”


At 3:55 AM, Blogger muser said...

Nice recommendations, Fal, and I liked your previous blog post too. Pity that locally-brewed wheat beers in Singapore aren't particularly consistent. Sometimes they just smell so nastily strong you don't even think about food. At least imported varieties don't seem to suffer from this problem.
- Chris Lim, BT

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Dav said...

Another good post on beer and its food parings. Another Tiger please (ok so we don't get a lot of beer brands in some restaurants here)

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Fal Allen said...

Tiger beer also can

At 5:30 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

I'm glad I stumbled upon this while I'm in Singapore! Great posts and I look forward to checking out the brewery in the next couple of days.


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