Food and beer tasting session

Bill Green is the sort of chap who can pull off a cravat with a CAMRA monogrammed polo shirt. He’s also the press officer for the East London & City Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale, so it would be fair to say, knows a hell of a lot about the stuff. He’d very kindly invited myself and 30-odd other people for a beer and food matching evening in the upstairs room of the Dispensary, EC1, (itself chosen and the East London Camra pub of the year)

Beer and food matching night at the Dispensary EC1

The themed for the evening was ‘beers brewed without hops’, which only became popular in the 13th Century. Before their introduction other botanicals such as dandelion, wormwood and heather were added to beer for flavour and to add some bitterness. Bill lined up a selection of beers that contain additional flavouring elements, and worked carefully with the Dispensary’s head chef and owner Dave Cambridge to produce an accompanying menu.

My olfactory sense was somewhat diminished due to the onset of a bout of man flu, consequently my tasting notes reads along the lines of ‘yup, that tastes like beer’ so I’ve included below Bill’s thoughts.

Seconds away, eyes down, and we’re off..…

Umbell Magna Porter 5.0%
Food: Parma ham Crostini
Nethergate, Pentlow, Suffolk
Bill saysInfused with coriander and following a 1752 recipe.  Warm, rich and fruity.  Taste a favourite tipple of Dr Johnson, David Garrick and Sarah Siddons!’

I say ‘unusual one to start with, I’d have perhaps looked a little further east that the Italian peninsular for the food match. It works fine, what with the saltiness of the ham, but I’m wondering if more could be made of the coriander flavoring, perhaps middle eastern style lamb?

Next we’re off to bonnie Scotland…

Beer and food matching night at the Dispensary EC1

Beer: Heather Ale 4.1% Williams of Alloa, Scotland
Food: Quail Egg with Haggis and Hollandaise
Bill says
Unique taste of heather flowers recalling Scottish Mediaeval ales. Robert the Bruce was inspired by this Beer to conquer at Bannockburn!  Earthy with hints of honey and a herbal aroma.’

I say ‘Great combination, Scotch eggs being one of my favourite things on Earth, the beer’s bouncy, and despite the conk full of snot I can still detect the peaty heathery notes and the distant drone of a Runrig gig. William’s website declares heather ale has been brewed in Scotland since 2000BC. The peppery earthy taste and texture of the Scotch egg holds up well with the beer.

Then we’re off to the Far East via Salisbury…

Beer: Taiphoon 4.2%
Food: Thai Chicken and Coconut Satay
Hopback, Salisbury
Bill says ‘Coriander and lemongrass give an Oriental zing to this Pale Ale.  Unusual and interesting in being brewed from a mixture of barley, maize and wheat malts.

I say ‘there was a fair chili kick to the skewers, and the coriander was there in the beer, but I had trouble tasting any lemongrass. Tasty drop mind, and was light and refreshing after the heat of the chicken. Hopback brewery produce one of my all time favourite drops, Summer Lightning, the taste of summer as far as I’m concerned, that and rain water obviously.

Beer and food matching night at the Dispensary EC1

Beer: Dandelion 4.5%
Food: Tempura Roast Pimento
Hall and Woodhouse, Blandford Forum, Dorset

Bill saysLight and golden organic bitter with herb aroma and bittersweet aftertaste. Dandelions have been valued for centuries for their herbal qualities and this beer style was an 18th century favourite.

I say ‘Dandelions get a bad rep in the UK, pick them and you’ll wet the bed we were told as kids, which is based on their powerful diuretic nature (wonder if the same is true after a session on this beer?) and the heads come in handy for playing ‘what’s the time Mister Wolf?’ The people at my table detected a slight sweet grassy smell, but I’m drawing a blank due to the cold. The peppers were nice and sweet, not greasy. Hall and Woodhouse also make a pumpkin ale, which sounds fantastic, one for Autumn for sure.

Beer: Grozet 5.0%
Food: Wild Boar and Apple Chipolata
Williams of Alloa, Scotland

Bill saysAn unpasteurized Lager that proves the Czechs can be matched.  Gooseberry-infused it is clean and crisp with delicious floral aromas.

I say ‘sausage and beer are natural bedfellows. Indeed the Grenadier Pub in Belgravia does sausages on the bar for a quid. Bill here confessed to not being a lager fan, and indeed it did sit oddly on the mouth after the other beers, there were comments on my table of a slight medicinal quality to it.  Good bangers mind, all made from scratch by David.

Beer and food matching night at the Dispensary EC1

Beer: Chocolate Strong Ale 6.5%
Food: Teriyaki Beef
Meantime, Greenwich.

Bill says: Montezuma’s reward! The Aztecs added chocolate to beer and now innovative brewers are now copying. Dark chocolate contrasts with the crystal malts to give puckering bouquet and complex taste

I say: Simply stunning, the best match by far, a match like Bjorn v McEnroe is a match, a match like Swan Vesta is a match. A match that in two mouthfuls triple jumps its way across three Continents looting tastes from the far east, south America and the home of time itself, Greenwich. The best one of the evening as far as I’m concerned.  Even the back of the bottle sums up my attitude before trying it saying ‘Chocolate and beer! Are we mad?’ No sir. Eccentric perhaps, even genius, but not mad. It’s really something else; indeed I slow cooked ox cheek in it at the weekend.

How do you follow that?  Well, with something sweet, and from the same brewery too.

Beer: Raspberry Wheat 6.5%
Food: Mini Summer Pudding
Meantime, Greenwich

Bill says: Vibrant red colour and mouth-arousing zesty finish.  Challenges the classic Berliner weisses.  Secondary fermentation of the fruit sugars gives potent flavour and lingering aftertaste.

I say: Another good combination, sharp and tart to finish off with and leaving our mouths puckered shut like a dogs bum… um, in a good way.

Beer and food matching night at the Dispensary EC1

Conclusion.

For me the pairing of food and drink has always been more subjective that the pairing of flavours or ingredients on a plate. I don’t know about you but I’ve never taken as gospel the food suggestions on the back of a bottle of wine for example. Food’s relationship with drink is an open relationship in which pretty much anything goes, yes even red wine with fish for which James Bond once shot a man.

However, some things ‘go’ better than others. For me, the best beer and food combinations of the evening either shared a cultural link, a terrior if you will, (think haggis and heather) or had a connection through similar ingredients. I try to look past the standard formula of ‘the w of y cuts through the x of the z’ (where w is an characteristic of the drink y, and x an attribute of ingredient z)

When looking at food with drink, I’m looking for something more, some soul at the bottom of the glass maybe, some other reason for these tastes being together and why they work. I am however watchful of the biblical saying ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ and that at the end of the day drink is present on a table for toasting as well as tasting, so let’s not get to hung up about it.

Far more interesting to my mind is the progress that’s been made. To think that 40 years ago we’d have been pairing a Whatney’s Party Seven with Marguerite Patten’s cheddar fondue or chicken in a basket. Today UK breweries are producing a broad enough range of beers to compliment and enhance almost every cuisine from across the globe. I’d even go so far as to say that the depth, range and colour of that palette is greater than that of wine, yet you’ll see few beers on sommeliers’ hefty tomes.

If you’d like to find out more, the CAMRA website has a nice ‘rule of thumb’ page listing major ingredients and what ‘goes best’ with each of them. Cheers.

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4 Responses to “Food and beer tasting session”


  1. 1 goodshoeday July 27, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    This looks like a really interesting tasting session. I’m quite a fan of beers like this so you’ve given me some good ideas. I think Watney’s is probably more of a crime that Marguerite Patten’s recipes though, I suspect she may well have been able to cook but its highly debatable whether Watney’s could make anything drinkable 😉

  2. 2 goodshoeday July 28, 2009 at 11:35 am

    This looks like a really interesting tasting session. I’m quite a fan of beers like this so you’ve given me some good ideas. I think Watney’s is probably more of a crime that Marguerite Patten’s recipes though, I suspect she may well have been able to cook but its highly debatable whether Watney’s could make anything drinkable 😉
    BTW I love your blog!

  3. 3 Alis August 18, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Im not a big fan of beer, well its probably because ive only taste bad beer, anyways…
    I dont know how i found your blog but i like it so…what can i tell you…
    Your kind of a pretty interesting person, in a good way!
    Hope to read you later.


  1. 1 Food and beer tasting session « Great Chefs Trackback on July 31, 2009 at 7:52 am
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