(Part 2 of 3)
O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu): You didn’t think it was gonna be that easy, did you?
The Bride (Uma Thurman): You know, for a second there, yeah, I kinda did.
O-Ren Ishii: Silly rabbit.
-Kill Bill 2
Actually Rabbits, it’s not that hard, for anyone willing to experiment. In his “The Pocket Guide to Beer“, beer guru and writer Michael Jackson (NOT the “Thriller”) described ales and lagers as the “red wines” and “white wines” of the beer world. He concluded: “The popularity of the original pilsner was well deserved, but its renown is ill served by the many brewers in different parts of the world who have used indifferent imitations to try to create a single international beer style at the expense of more characterful regional specialties. It is as though the whole world were to drink (white) Rhine wines and forget about the very existence of Burgundy or Bordeaux (red wines). The ‘whites’ of the beer world are more stable and consistent, but the top-fermenting yeasts endow the ‘reds’ with great personality.”
So, how can we match this rainbow of beery goodness with food? Imagine for a second that not everything we cook is either stewed, curried, or doused with pepper; great features of our local cuisine, but they often overwhelm the senses, and anything else they’re paired with. To properly embrace ‘cuisine à la bière’, think foot-tapping jazz, or that R&B riff that always makes you smile, as opposed to Carnival music truck, and you’ll get the idea. It’s the subtle things that make a big difference, as Vince (John Travolta) explains to Jules:
Vincent: Yeah, baby, you’d dig it the most. But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?
Vincent: It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same **** over there that we got here, but it’s just…it’s just, there it’s a little different.
Vincent: All right. Well, you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don’t mean just like in no paper cup; I’m talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer at McDonald’s. And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the **** a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: What do they call it?
Vincent: They call it a ‘Royale with Cheese’
Here are a few basic tips on making the beer & food marriage work:-
Harmony is your watchword here. The livelier or fattier the meal (BBQ’s, Burgers), the more hop bitterness and aroma the beer needs to hold its own. Hop bitterness cuts though fat in foods and lightens the heaviness in your mouth, allowing other flavors to come through. Highly carbonated beers like lagers also work well here, although they may lack the flavor and aroma of a well hopped ale. Spicy foods too, like curries, can benefit from a pairing with very hoppy beers, such as classic India Pale Ales (IPAs). The bittering α-acids in these IPAs may also intensify spiciness and heat (which shouldn’t be a problem here in pepper-happy T&T!), while the less bitter but ever more aromatic American style IPAs can also make a good pairing. Hoppy beers can also be used in place of a pairing that calls for an acidic wine, such as salads with tangy dressings, or savory salamis. But don’t forget that the original purpose of hops in beer is to bring balance to the sweetness of the malted barley. Balance, not overwhelm. So in pairing you’d want to match the impact of the food with the impact of the beer. What this means, for example, is that you don’t want a big, robust, strong beer paired with a delicate fish dish (e.g. Sushi), or a light vegetable salad. And a pilsner, or a wheat beer, would not do the same justice to a beautiful roast, rich stew or grilled chops, than would a maltier, more muscular ale. If you want to get the best out of both the meal and the beer you’ve chosen to go with it, then you don’t want to overwhelm your palate or meal and ruin what the chef was trying to achieve.
There are fights that are beautiful to watch, and there are ugly, drunken brawls that end up outside in the street. The same applies to beer and food! Who’d have thought that the classic Irish pairing of a dry stout like Guinness would work so perfectly with oysters? Or that strong, robust beers such as ‘barley wines’ would be a perfect match with sweet chocolates? On the other hand, pairing an American light lager with, say, a beautiful slow cooked fore-shank of lamb would probably diminish the enjoyment of both beer and food.
A useful rule of thumb is ……there are no rules! If you like it, then that’s what’s right. However, to help you avoid wasting time and money on experiments gone wrong, it’s always helpful to get a few things sorted early on. First, decide if you’re open to new experiences, and then leave your pre-conceived notions at the door. Second, depending on the choices available, identify your ‘malt forward’ beers and your ‘hop forward’ beers, or your ‘red wine’ and your ‘white wine’. If anything from Belgium, or Wheat beers, are involved, then you’ve doubled the size of you beer universe. Third, consider the ideal serving temperatures for each particular beer – some beers are best served near frozen, while others blossom when served merely cool. The right beer, at the right temperature, is the difference between finding the right tool for the job, and using a can-opener to get into your car. It kinda matters.
Finally, decide what sort of beer-food experience you’d like to have. In Part Three, we’ll take a look at some specific pairings, all tried by the author, none of which ended up in a scuffle on the sidewalk.
Tarrantino factoid:- in Django unchained, Dr. King Schulz goes behind the saloon bar and carefully pours two glasses of…beer! Ever seen beer in a Western?