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Cheers! It’s International Beer Day

Some handy tips to make your food and beer pairings flavour perfect

Londiwe Dlomo Journalist
Happy International Beer Day.
Happy International Beer Day.
Image: Asphoto777/ Kaarepostock/ Maryn Ievdokimova/ Mrzazaz/ Olyasolodenko/ Roxiller/ 123RF

 The first Friday of every August marks International Beer Day. Beer is as varied and complex as wine, and it’s a bottomless treasure trove — you can pair it with anything and even use it as an ingredient in many meals.

This can be as simple as adding beer to a casserole or as interesting as matching beer with pickled food. Pickles, you say? Yes, pickles!   

“Pickles and beer tend to go very well together because of the process of fermentation, so they share a lot of flavour characteristics such as tartness, sour notes, and complex flavours… Beer is even used to brine [some pickles]. They actually work very well together,” says Bruce Burns, executive chef at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Durban Umhlanga.  

There are many types of beers — for example, craft, lager, pilsner, and stout — and many flavours, from coffee all the way to citrus. The fun is in discovering what works for you and your guests.  

Many restaurants and microbreweries offer tasting experiences where you can sample their beers on their own or with food pairings. At home, you can start off with a beer-and-cheese evening, as some of the malt-flavoured beers go well with a nutty cheese. Creamy cheese such as Brie can be paired with an acidic cider or fruity beer, while an oatmeal stout marries great with a bold cheese such as Stilton. The bitterness of the hops cuts through the density and richness of most cheeses.    

Another option is theming your evening by country — for example, a lot of German beers go well with that country’s pork dishes. 

Image: Asphoto777/ Kaarepostock/ Maryn Ievdokimova/ Mrzazaz/ Olyasolodenko/ Roxiller/ 123RF

“Americans make a pumpkin flan with pale ale in it; they also put [pale ale] in a maple bread pudding — like a bread-and-butter pudding. It’s a blond ale and can be used in a madeira cake or an apricot compote. A stronger beer can be used to make dark-chocolate truffles or a dark-chocolate mousse with raspberries,” Burns says.  

Beer as a dessert accompaniment is a natural — think of the pairing of a coffee-flavoured beer with chocolate-and-orange mousse. You can also be nostalgic about your childhood with a delicious ice-cream beer float, which would be excellent using a peanut-butter ice cream and a stout.  

What to keep in mind when coming up with your beer-pairing menu, according to Burns:  

Match a strength with a strength — delicate dishes work better with lighter beers while stronger-flavoured foods need a much more assertive beer. The malt character, the bitterness of the hops, the sweetness of the beer, how long they’ve roasted the beer — these are all things to keep in mind.   

Find harmonies – make it work well together in terms of flavours and aromas. If you’ve got a citrus-flavoured beer, bring in other citruses in a dessert or a fish or chicken dish. The same goes for nutty flavours: a brown ale would go nicely with a strong cheddar because of the nuttiness. 

Image: Asphoto777/ Kaarepostock/ Maryn Ievdokimova/ Mrzazaz/ Olyasolodenko/ Roxiller/ 123RF

Consider the bitterness or sweetness and the richness of the beer as well as the dish and how these interact with each other in specific, predictable ways, take advantage of these, and partner them up. Food with a lot of sweetness or fatty richness can be matched up with various elements in a beer. Again, it’s going back to how long the beer was roasted, its sweetness or bitterness — for example, a more malty, sweet beer will be better at cooling the heat of a dish with a lot of chilies in it.    

Beer is a wonderful beverage and has a lot of potential, but it has been side-lined when it comes to food. In addition, it’s had very male-centric marketing for many years.  

Burns has wise words for beer beginners. “You’ve got to start with your lighter beers, your pilsners, blonde ales, lagers, etc. A stout or a Guinness or something like that is a bit of an acquired taste because they are quite heavy beers, so the best way to go is with the lighter ones.  

“A lot of people also don’t like a beer that is too bitter, so it’s better to start off with something that has a bit of sweetness to it, that is nicely balanced, so you can enjoy that and then experiment.”