Lager with a curry is just the edge of the plate when it comes to beer and food matching but how are you supposed to know what will work with what (unless you are lucky enough to have a beer sommelier on your team)? From shellfish to stew and cheese to chocolate, here's a simple set of guidelines to help you tap into the growing popularity of food with beer.
Still the most popular style of beer in the UK, the category has become more diverse with the launch of craft lagers to compete with the big brands and their pilsner-styles of lager that we have become so familiar with. This type of beer is characterised by its light colour and refreshing taste. Pub classic fish & chips is a perfect foil for this beer, as the crisp, citrus notes cut through the oily dish and are delicate enough not to overpower the fish. Shellfish and chicken are also light enough in flavour, perhaps calamari or rosemary roast chicken. And if you really get stuck, a curry of course.
The craft beer revolution has resulted in a new generation of IPAs, so different from the old-style that we will have to treat them separately here. So first to the old-style – a classic British IPA (as typified by brands such as Worthington's White Shield or Marston's Old Empire) are hoppier than a classic British ale but there's a balance between the malt and hops that makes it a sessionable pint. This style of IPA generally goes well with oily fish and spicy foods, so try Mexican tacos made with salmon or tandoor curries
New school IPAs, or American Pale Ales (so-called because they emerged out of the US craft beer scene) are considerably more hoppy – think St Austell's Proper Job or Beavertown's Gamma Ray. Spicy food will work well here, especially fragrant Thai green curries.
Sixty-seven per cent of ale drunk in pubs is amber ale, so it's a style worth promoting. Beers in the category can range from quite a light amber to a deep shade of reddish-gold, but all come with a somewhat malty background taste with a touch of caramel and a dry finish. That combination makes them perfect for robust dishes including pulled pork, cheeseburgers, even some lamb dishes such as shepherd's pie.
Growing in popularity (up two percentage points in volume share over the last two years, according to the most recent Marston's On-Trade Beer Report), so worth highlighting here. Examples of this style of beer would include Greene King's Old Golden Hen and Marston's Wainwright Golden Beer. Light and hoppy, they go well with summer dishes – maybe a Caesar salad, a ploughman's or a charcuterie platter, especially if the latter featured some oily fish in the form of a mackerel paté, for example.
Beer's equivalent of a white wine, these brews work well with fish and poultry. Seafood risotto, crab linguini or Thai fishcakes perhaps? Spicier choices such as a pad Thai work well too, or, for vegetarians, dishes based on spring vegetables such as green beans and peas perhaps paired with feta or mozzarella cheese.
There are 12 recognised Trappist breweries in the world and all of them make brews that are typically dark and chewy but with sweet spicy notes too. They are also on the strong side – from about six per cent ABV – so need a hefty meal to pair with. Smelly cheeses are a great shout, as are fatty meats such as duck or sausages, as well as game like venison and pheasant. You can even cook with them – carbonnade-flamande is a Belgian speciality and is essentially a stew of beef and beer, traditionally served with frites.
Oysters, of course! But at the other end of the scale, beef in most of its forms (stews, pies and steaks) is also a match, along with meats that have been smoked or charred over an open flame. The espresso and chocolate notes also make this style of beer a good choice for the end of the meal, whether with blue cheeses, strong cheddars or chocolate puddings, which bring the coffee notes to the fore. Another idea would be to use the beer in puddings, such as Guinness & chocolate cake, a grown-up, unctuous cake that can be topped with cream cheese frosting to echo the white head of a pint of stout.