Wine drinkers of the world I have a challenge for you. Nominate wines that match every course of every meal of the day. It's not easy - especially finding wine for a fry-up or rice pudding. Forgive me for being smug, but with beer it's a doddle. I am a beer sommelier and specialise in beer and food matching. I'm part of a campaign to change people's perception of beer. And particularly the myth that wine with food is ne plus ultra when it comes to gustation. Whoever spread that idea has never tried to make a wine ice-cream float. Try it with beer - place a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a glass of Imperial Stout and sprinkle cocoa on it - I call it a beer-puccino and it rules!
We drink during a meal to clear our palates for another mouthful of food. Beverages that contain carbon dioxide are very efficient at palate scrubbing and beer contains CO2 (it's a by-product of fermentation). Beer is over 90% water so it also refreshes the mouth. But so does fizzy H2O so why don't people rhapsodize about that with food? Because the perfect drink for matching with food also has aroma, flavour, and body and can contrast, cut or complement the grub and that is where beer delivers with such an impressive range of options. Caramel, vanilla, coffee, honey, spice, citrus, herbs, licorice, banana, chicory, marmalade, smoke, marzipan, chocolate are just a few aromas and flavours found in beer. And beer has a secret weapon - hops. Hops give a flavour backbone, degrees of bitterness, and balance the sweetness of the malted cereal. Hops can act as knives and cut through fat or heavy sauces in food, or they can gently support delicately textured and flavoured food. It's not that wine does not go with food - it matches very well with certain dishes, it's just that beer is much more versatile and also very forgiving.
So why do so few restaurants offer a decent selection of beer? Or any beer for that matter? Not just because the profit margin on beer is much less than it is on wine. It's because beer is perceived as downmarket. The drink of the common man, the beardy weirdy, the lager lout. Conversely wine was historically reserved for high status people only and even today that attitude prevails. Haven't they seen Champagne Charlie and Chardonnay Charlotte in action giving it what for on the vino collapso? Unfortunately beer has an image problem exacerbated by blokeish advertising campaigns aimed at men where women only feature as totty or as harridans spoiling a good time. No wonder restaurants with a reputation to consider largely ignore beer.
In the UK beer has been assigned a gender - male. Ironic isn't it, because women were the original brewers and for millennia were beer's primary brewers. They still are in some societies in Africa and the Amazon. When more women start drinking beer in the UK, and feel it is their drink too, then the image will change. But first the men who think that they own beer and consider it unfeminine for women to drink it, or the trolls that post insulting comments to women who blog about it, the beer organisations that treat women who like beer or brew it as tokens, must accept that beer is a beverage for everyone - i.e. gender neutral.
Little more than 150 years ago another alcoholic drink had an appalling reputation. It was the drink of the poor, the depraved, the criminal, the hopeless. That drink was gin. Try finding a decent restaurant today that does not serve a G&T from a selection of fashionable brands. Someone decided that gin needed a makeover and now look at it - no longer is it Mother's Ruin, it is a staple of all restaurants. Oh for beer to have that status too.
But I can't wait 150 years for beer to be recognised for what it is - one of the greatest gifts from nature - and to be revered rather than reviled when it comes to stocking the bar in restaurants. Beer is Britain's national drink and brewers here make some of the best beer in the world. Maybe if customers are converted to enjoying beer with their food, restaurants will relent and we will see extensive beer and wine lists. Serve the beer in 250 ml crystal wine glasses and suddenly beer becomes as elegant as its grapey counterpart.
Oenophiles here is your mission. Plan a dinner party and serve the following menu. I've suggested a beer match - you choose the wine for each course. Serve both beer and wine in wine glasses and ask your guests to decide which libation they prefer with the food.
Olives (Bière de garde)
Caesar salad (Wheat beer)
Thai fishcakes (Gueuze or Saison beer)
Cheese board (India Pale Ale or Barley Wine)
Crème brûlée (Kriek or Oak Aged Beer)
Nuts (Dopplebock beer)
Instead of an after dinner coffee serve a glass of porter.
And as for the beer to match with a full English breakfast? Try a German rauchbier. Builder's tea just doesn't cut it.