Beer in Restaurants – a few years on, is it any better?

Well, yes and no (to answer my own question which references this post)

Beer still doesn’t have the same footing that other drinks do in most non-beer focussed places in Melbourne (and it’s probably reasonable to say that it is true for other Australian cities). I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately (even more so than usual I guess) mostly prompted by visits to restaurants that are doing amazing things with food, wine and cocktails but absolute pedestrian things with beer.

The most recent trend being that good beers are getting on menus in one way or another, but often it is hamfisted and clumsy.

Moa2One particular restaurant (and I don’t think I need to mention their name as it is indicative of the wider industry) has a stunning and clever menu of unique and groundbreaking food . Their cocktails are fascinating and their wine list is full of interesting new and old world varietals. Their beer, at first glance, had me thinking “great, there is some good beer here too” but when I looked closely and compared it to the food I realised there were no beers that I wanted to drink with their food. We instead opted for a natural wine, which interestingly enough smelled like a gueuze and had there been a gueuze on the menu we would’ve definitely gone for that.

Another trigger for this post was a blog post/review of a new place here in Melbourne. It praised the wine list for having interesting and unique choices that pair well with the food , but in the same breath called the beer list a pleasant surprise because it was simple and not craft focused. The words “refreshing” and “drinkable” were used in praise of the beers.

I find that slightly offensive. Again, I’m not going to link the review or place as I think it is a wider issue so to single out an individual would be unfair.

It’s rather the attitude and opinion that beer is primarily utilitarian or functional. A thing that you have when you don’t want something interesting. Just a throwaway after-thought rather than a unique foil for the food.

One of the great things about beer is that the world’s best are only a few bucks more than the worst. Sure you can find some pretty expensive beers on auction/private resell sites; but they very rarely get over a couple of hundred dollars and usually represent something rare rather than good.

I firmly believe a world-class beer that has quantity enough to be put on a restaurant menu is a cost-effective way to provide something exciting.

Over the next few days (week or so, depending on my schedule) I’ll put together five lists of five beers and discuss why I think they can work on any beer menu. Along the way I’ll also include comments from beer lovers on social media, and some expert opinion in the subsequent posts. I would love your feedback as well.

These lists will be done by location, starting with Australia. Then (I haven’t decided on order yet) New Zealand, Belgium, USA and the rest of the world.

The criteria are that they are easily found (here in Melbourne, but you wouldn’t have a lot of problems finding these in Australia) and will work with almost any cuisine in one way or another.

Australia

La Sirene – Saison

Saisons are excellent with food. Ranging from delicate citrus to flavours of hay and barnyard; and in some wild yeast versions, leather and pineapple. The La Sirene version is very drinkable but continuously interesting. Refreshing, crisp, but bready and full of hay and citrus aromas.

This pairs well with raw food (think ceviche or tartare entrée), anything with fresh vibrant herbs, mushrooms, chicken and can even go well with moderately spicy food. Giving a fragrant but dry counter balance to chili and pepper.

There is also scope to pair them with dessert (lemon meringue or tart raspberry desserts come to mind) and definitely a lot you can do with cheese.

This is an excellently drinkable, slightly funky and delicious beer that I wish was on any restaurant menu.

Kooinda – Black IPA

This is a world-class version of a fairly misunderstood and under appreciated style when it comes to pairing it up with food.

Black IPAs are often an intense combination of the highly roasted, traditionally associated with stouts, and the fragrant but bitter tastes you get from a standard IPA. The best versions are like eating bitter chocolate with fresh fruit. Layers of contrasting and complementary flavours.

From the Kooinda version I get a big aroma of kiwifruit, along with roasted coffee and cocoa. This is replicated in the taste and it gives a fairly rich experience but is dry enough to only leave it lingering rather than have it dominating.

kooindaWhen it comes to food, Black IPA goes where bitter/dark chocolate goes. Not only with dessert, but you can also think of it like you would cocoa in a mole. Providing a strong bitter-sweet counterpunch to spice.

Along with that, cured meat and pickles are another interesting combination with this beer. Playing off the sweet, smokey, salty and vinegary flavours found on a charcuterie board.

My favourite parings with black IPA are middle eastern flavours (think ras el hanout, sultanas, dates, pomegranate, cumin etc). The combination of savoury, spicy but intensely sweet provides a great counterbalance for a black IPA. Or when you think of the other side of the world, Jamaican jerk chicken or spicy ribs would be equally as interesting.

Finally I have heard people pairing this beer with both white flesh fish, and salmon. I’ve not tried it and am still a little skeptical, however I’m told it works well and that speaks to its versatility.

Bridge Road Brewers – Chestnut Pilsner

Probably a bit of a dark horse in the Australian beer scene. This is a lovely example of a crisp pilsner that has an underlying nuttiness that gives it more depth. Overlooked but not forgotten I actually learned how good this beer is with food while at a restaurant with one of those random beer lists – 4 macro lagers and 2 non-macro beers.

The chestnuts in the beer, I believe, are thrown right into the mash (as in, along with the grain) and the result opens this beer up to a lot of food pairings such as white flesh fish, fennel, raw meat/fish and green salads or fresh coleslaw.

However the pilsner style also helps it to be a great cleansing beer; and salty dishes, or rich pasta will also be great with this.

In addition, nuttier hard cheeses, or even fruit focused desserts like Eaton mess or cheesecake will help this beer round out a meal.

And the final reason why I think this is a prefect beer for any beer list is that while it has a delicate nature, it will also easily serve that classic function that most people still want from a beer. With rich food, it will just drink like a refreshing beer; so for those that don’t want something heavy or complex this will hum along nicely in the background.

Cavalier – Brown Alelogo

Responsible for one of my favourite beer and food moments (we all have those, right?) this brown ale is another oft-overlooked classic in the Australian beer landscape.  I can kind of see why…

Brown Ale.

Not very evocative. It just paints a picture of something middle of the road, a bit bland. A bit nothing.  Might as well call it “Beige Ale”.

However this beer is anything but middle of the road and bland. It’s a rich but drinkable and silky smooth.

My moment with this beer was while eating a beef wellington at a now defunct Melbourne restaurant (which incidentally had an excellent beer list to complement its excellent wine list).

It’s hard to find a better beer to match with a wintery or roasted red-meat dish.

It’s smooth texture and slightly toasted nuttiness will also go extremely well with smoked meats, burgers, or even the classic Australian BBQ.

For the vegetarians, you can really enjoy this things such as caramelized onion tart or mushroom pie.

It will also carry through to rich desserts such as sticky date pudding, or chocolate mousse as well as hard or smoked cheese.

Mountain Goat – IPA

I had to include an IPA here. I thought about avoiding it and including an ESB but that would only be for the sake of being contrarian.

IPA is a style that works exceptionally well with food, and while it is getting a little old-hat, the flavours of an IPA such as this can bring a lot to the table. This particular one has a lovely tropical fruit aroma, nice malt character and solid bitterness to round it out. Dry and extremely drinkable but full of flavour.

It’s the kind of IPA I really like and the obvious match for this is curry. Obvious, and clichéd, but when you look at the spicy from either South East Asia or South Asia, there really is only one choice.

My other favourite is Korean style BBQ with things such as kimchi and gochujan paste. It really changes this beer and will open anyone’s eyes to the power of beer and food matching.

In addition IPA goes great with any style smoked or BBQ’d meat pickles, some hard sharp cheeses and will even be an interesting match for rich fruit based desserts.  Providing enough bitterness to stop things being too sweet but enough tropical flavours to complement the fruit.

It’s a beer with big flavour and will stand up to food that is big also; while also staying drinkable and refreshing.

These are five beers that you can find extremely easily and all come from Victoria. This could be a beer list on its own and to be honest, I would rather see this list of four beers than one that was four pages long trying to do too much.

My next post will cover comments from social media about this topic and another list of beers. I would love to hear your thoughts on the Facebook or below.

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22 Responses

  1. Some great choices on the beers! But yeah, I agree with your experience of beer menus (I’m in Melbourne too). You’ll often go to a nice place with a wine list of multiple pages and they’ll give you, at best, maybe 10 beers – none of which had any thinking on how to go with the food.

    Some restaurants do pretty well though. I was at one in Prahran that did kind of rustic French food and they had a lovely saison that went perfectly!

    Whoever reviewed the restaurant and praised the beer menu for not being too crafty is just ignorant – a restaurant wouldn’t be praised for having a simple wine menu! I guess you already made that point though…

  2. Some great choices on the beers! But yeah, I agree with your experience of beer menus (I’m in Melbourne too). You’ll often go to a nice place with a wine list of multiple pages and they’ll give you, at best, maybe 10 beers – none of which had any thinking on how to go with the food.

    Some restaurants do pretty well though. I was at one in Prahran that did kind of rustic French food and they had a lovely saison that went perfectly!

    Whoever reviewed the restaurant and praised the beer menu for not being too crafty is just ignorant – a restaurant wouldn’t be praised for having a simple wine menu! I guess you already made that point though…

  3. Some great choices on the beers! But yeah, I agree with your experience of beer menus (I’m in Melbourne too). You’ll often go to a nice place with a wine list of multiple pages and they’ll give you, at best, maybe 10 beers – none of which had any thinking on how to go with the food.

    Some restaurants do pretty well though. I was at one in Prahran that did kind of rustic French food and they had a lovely saison that went perfectly!

    Whoever reviewed the restaurant and praised the beer menu for not being too crafty is just ignorant – a restaurant wouldn’t be praised for having a simple wine menu! I guess you already made that point though…

  4. bloycey says:

    It’s no better in Brisbane. Sometimes I dream of becoming some sort of ‘beer consultant’, repairing beer lists one restaurant at a time. I could even wear a cape.

    I guess it’s promising that I’m seeing Stone and Wood Pacific Ale on more and more beer lists – I know S&W aren’t exactly a niche or micro-brewery anymore but it’s still a great beer that is really versatile with food.

    Kooinda Black IPA = droooool.

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