I had planned to do this series in a week. I guess that was slightly ambitious and it’s taken me… a little longer.
I’ve given my initial thoughts on beer in restaurants, looked at what is happening in the Wellington beer and food space, got opinions from social media, and spoken to sommeliers about their thoughts on beer in restaurants.
It’s been an interesting process and at the end of it I’m coming out happy. Has much changed since I started? Not really. The real question should be: Are things continuing to change? And the answer is a resounding yes.
Recently I sat in a wine-focussed bar and drank Cantillon Kriek as I ate beautifully cooked lamb’s tongue. On the weekend I visited 3 breweries, a beer focussed pub and a bottle store that specialises in beer.
Right now we aren’t short of good beer. I hadn’t gone out of my way to do any of these things and they were all relatively accessible to me. Granted I live in a fairly food and drink mad city but good beer is spreading its sticky fingers out into the regions of Australia and the world. It really has never been a better time to be a beer lover.
Yes I complain about a lot.
There are countless flawed beers, old beers, poorly served beers, lazy beer menus, beers that I don’t like and brands that I don’t like. However I will always complain about them. No matter what people are doing right, they could always do better. I could have fewer errors in my blog, a nicer looking website and a better sounding podcast. Brewers, bars and restaurants could improve on a number of problems where beer is concerned. I’m the one spending a lot of time-and-money drinking and promoting it so why shouldn’t I expect the best?
Because of that, I will not stop giving my opinions on beer and all associated facets – and a few negative comments from someone behind a blog doesn’t signal the end of times.
Things are changing and it’s exciting. As people speculate about how “craft” beer is a fad or that it is too snobby, elite, expensive, or we see backlash in the media with commentary against good beer (too bitter, too fancy, beer should just be beer etc etc), we can all take comfort in the growing market for, and access to, great beer. And should the fad somehow end, then the exciting thing is, we’ve improved the baseline for what beer should be. Five years ago it was the most generic and bland lager possible. Now it is actually something good. The beer-minimum in bars and restaurants is rapidly rising and should people stop clambering for new releases or rarity we will still be left with something much better than there was.
This brings me to five more beers that I think could sit well on any beer list in almost any restaurant. Chosen again for availability, cost, quality and suitability for a number of foods. This represents a small portion of “the rest of the world” (Not Australia, NZ, Belgium or the US). I could have done five for any country and I realise I have had to ignore a number of remarkable beers (and beer producing countries). I guess that just drives home my point about how much great beer there is out there and I can’t just do this for the rest of my life… well unless you want to start paying me.
One of the four trappist breweries not from Belgium, their Witte is the only example of the style produced by a trappist brewery. This version has an excellent citrus aroma with a little banana and bread from the yeast. It has a clean easy drinking body with a crackling carbonation level, finishing dry.
A perfect summer beer that you could easily serve with any course. The natural pairing would be mussels but you could also put this up against dishes that include lemon and coriander to play off the beer’s citrus dominant flavours. I would also love to put this up with some nachos as a palate cleanser and it has enough to stand up to a moderate heat.
Additionally, thick rich chocolate cake would be amazing with this. Just letting the carbonation cut right through the weight.
I wouldn’t put this up with any dark meats, such as beef or lamb but it would slide effortlessly in with your roast pork or chicken. Maybe duck? Unsure on that.
I’ll admit here that I’m not a massive fan of Hefeweizens but I’ll tick this one any day and it makes a great beer for the table. Easy drinking enough to be a crowd pleaser but full of all the German wheat beer aromas and flavours that people know and love. Unlike the last beer, it has rich body and sweet finish and I would look at things like white flesh fish, german sausages (obvi) and would happily put it up with dark roasted meat.
Also pickled vegetables and smoked meats are perfect for a beer like this. Coming in a 500ml bottle it’s great for sharing with antipasti at the start of a meal.
I might not look at desserts with this one as I find the sweetness and yeast can get a bit too dominant for my palate but it’s such a good fit for other courses that it’s not a concern really.
There seems to be a bit of a theme here, yeast forward euro-style ales, but this is a japanese take and has additions of coriander, orange juice, nutmeg and orange peel.
My favourite memory of this beer was having it with a meringue and basil dessert (basil, in a dessert!) and it was just stunning. The additions to this beer make it a great fit for anything that has fresh herb elements. Things like garden salads, steaks finished with herbs, or roast chicken and thyme.
This is a great fit for dessert too – while I would avoid chocolate with it (it doesn’t have the sparkling carbonation like the Le Trappe offering) it is a great pairing for fruit focussed desserts – and even has enough to go with a Christmas pudding or fruit cake (playing off the nutmeg and orange peel).
The Italians are gaining quite a reputation for new world styles and some really good saisons. It was hard to choose one to put here so I went completely against trends and selected this.
I’m a sucker for stouts around the 5.2% mark and this one is just a beautiful example. 11 different sorts of malts combine effortlessly giving a rich coffee and raw cocoa flavour, with a dry finish and a slight chocolate and coffee aftertaste. With the right menu this is another beer that could run through an entire meal.
I’ve used this beer at a beer dinner to pair with mushrooms. While stouts are common bedfellows with oysters or dessert, mushrooms have a big rich savoury flavour for the roasted malts to play off, while the sweetness helps balance everything out.
Think of a meal with oysters, mushroom and steak shepherd’s pie, and chocolate mouse for dessert. Given this is not a heavy stout, things won’t get cloying or tiring.
It’s the kind of beer many would overlook, as lower abv stouts often are, but put this with food and you can accentuate everything great about it. Given its dryness and smooth body it won’t go too far to the point where it becomes dominant and will just sit nicely alongside your meal.
This smoky beer is made in a traditional Norwegian style with juniper branches and berries. A brown ale with a lovely smoke and gently spiced aroma and flavour, silky mouthfeel and smooth harmonious finish, it just ticks all the boxes for something you want in a restaurant. It might not go with all the food but it’ll round out a meal, or serve as the main attraction and come out as a superstar.
I would look to get a little bit off centre with matches for this beer as smoke in beer can be overwhelming. Put it up against something equally tasty, however, and you may just end up with magic. Smoked mussels would be a good start, as would beef ribs in a sticky-boozy sauce. You could also look at something like a salted-black bean stir fry – contrasting two completely different flavours against each other.
I would also love to try this with a dense chocolate cake, cream and fresh raspberries. With the last 4 beers in this list being fairly predictable crowd pleasers, this is the one you could play with and take some risks.
Or you could play it safe and go for a big piece roast venison with a bay leaf and juniper rub.
This is the final in my beer in restaurants series. but I’d still love your feedback and thoughts on how we can get better beer in more restaurants or how we can improve education for staff. If you are interested in learning more about beer and food matching or finding out what is possible with what is out there, feel free to check out my contact page for all my details. I’d love to hear from you.