Brewers around Australia have been working hard to broaden people’s views on beer and when it should be drunk. As craft breweries flourish, beer makers are pushing diners to see beer as a drink that can enhance the gastronomic experience rather than just being relegated as a pre-dinner drink or a cleansing ale to finish the meal.
The beer dinner events organised by brewers like Chuck Hahn, who operates the Malt Shovel Brewery, are being used to expose diners to the joys of beer/food matches. The dinners involve beer experts teaming up with some of the country’s best restaurants and hotels to host dinners where only beer is served, matched meticulously to the dishes. Chefs Hahn has worked with just recently include the likes of The Bathers Pavillions Serge Dansereau and Becasse’s Justin North.
What brewers want to see is more restaurants introducing more thoughtful ‘beer lists’ that would sit alongside the wine list as a perfectly acceptable accompaniment to their food menu.
Hahn says discerning diners are discovering new heights of flavour that beer can offer when correctly matched with food.
But it’s more than Indian and Thai that are right for beer. Think a chocolate dessert with a porter or lamb shanks with an amber or brown ale.
“Unlike wine, beer will work with all foods,” says Hahn. “As a rule of thumb, if a dish has excessive spice, vinegar, acidity, salt or has a rich, hearty flavour then beer is the obvious choice. Richer foods demand richer beers.”
“Matching beer with food goes beyond simply aligning flavour profiles. Beer is capable of complementing or contrasting food as well as cleansing the palate. The palate-cleansing capabilities and bitterness of an extra hoppy brew like the James Squire Pilsener is perfect for spicy stir-fries and Indian curries. Whereas, rich wintery flavours of lamb shanks or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding beautifully complement the crystal malt character in amber or brown ales such as the James Squire Amber Ale.”
One hotel that’s taken beer and food to new heights is the Spotted Cow in Toowoomba which boasts Australia’s first “beer sommelier”. Ian Watson was appointed to the role two years ago responsible for putting together the hotel’s beer list and also working the floor of their restaurant in the same way a wine sommelier would. And he ensures that the beers are also presented correctly, using the correct glassware and poured properly.
Watson says his customers are amazed when they discover the depth of flavour profiles that that can be found with beer. “And often it’s the wine drinker who appreciates it the most,” says Watson. “I guess because they are used to looking for that flavour.”
Watson is available at the restaurant to help customers choose a beer to match food or “to match an occasion” from the beer list that includes 45 bottled beers and 16 beers on tap from Australia and around the world.
“And I have access to a further 150 just 10 minutes away,” says Watson.
Watson sources his beers from Australia and around the world. “But I will only source beers that I know I can get in good condition so that they can be served at their peak,” he says.
A beer list for a restaurant could move through a selection of beers from amber ales, pilseners and porters to pale ales and golden ales, says Fosters Group national business manager, John Hosken. “You could think about having a stout on your menu or a nice creamy Belgian beer or even the cherry beers that are great with dessert,” Hosken says.
Hosken emphasises the importance of being in touch with consumers before putting together a list. ”What is going to work in regional Australia is not necessarily going to work in Toorak, and that would be different to Bondi,” he says.