Beer Belly (Part 2)

(Part 2 of 3)

Take Two!




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?

Jules: What?

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.

Jules: Example?

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’

-Pulp Fiction


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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?  


Say ‘Beer Belly’ again – I Double Dare you!

Norris Blanc channels Tarrantino in the search for Truth, Righteousness, and Beer in the Kitchen

(Part 1 of 3)Pulp 1

Just like Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), in Quentin Tarrantino’s “Pulp Fiction”, one sometimes becomes impatient with false assumptions and fuzzy details. Tragically, many of the misconceptions about that single most universally enjoyed beverage, beer, are in fact created by beer producers themselves. Their vast advertising budgets seem focused on convincing us that beer (i.e. Lager) drinking is best confined to white sandy beaches and crowded bars; a thirst quencher or a social glue, where scorching hot women arrive in droves with built-in beer-goggles. Beer is there to be enjoyed as background, scenery, but not by or for itself. As a Financial Times journalist once put it, “These people are drinking a marketing programme, they’re not drinking beer”. This article aims to correct that injustice. Illumination is the mission here, to guide our readers out of the darkness and into the light. Or, as a sorely homicidally inclined Jules might say, “I’m trying Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd”.

If there’s one consistent feature of a Tarrantino movie, it’s that his characters never lack for clarity of motive. In the gastronomic world, that’s not always the case. We’ve all seen articles on the arcane art of matching food and wine. To most of us, the process is so often filled with mystique by the professionals that we just don’t bother, and simply end up placing our bets on “red with meat, white with fish” Or perhaps, needing to make a good impression, we just plump for the idea that the $500 bottle of wine MUST be better than the $150. In both scenarios the potential for disappointment is considerable.

Beer suffers from exactly the opposite problem! To most people, especially most beer drinkers, there’s no mystique about beer at all. Yet, while those same people would probably at least know that wine is made from grapes, it’s surprising how many don’t know what beer is made from. Or how that translates into the quality, variety, taste and price of the end result. You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and order “a plate of food”, would you? Or “a glass of wine”? You’d have at least some idea of how you wanted to maximize your enjoyment of what you ate or drank. So, before exploring the marriage of beer with food (the ultimate objective of this post), or just beer with thirst, we should maybe try to plug the giant Beer Information Gap (or just ‘B.I.G.’ to those in the know) that surrounds us.

Take One!

Both ale and lager are beers. Both are made from malted barley, hops, yeast, and of course, water. Wheat beers, obviously, use wheat instead of barley. Each of those ingredients, and how they are used in the brewing process, bring distinct features to the end product. Malted barley, for example. Just before grains or seeds sprout, they develop an outer layer of maltose sugars (yep, that’s where Malt comes from!), and it’s these sugars, along with the other starches in the barley grain that are then roasted by the brewer prior to commencing the brewing process. The degree of malt combined with the roasting time and temperature have a profound effect on the taste (think cereal, toast, caramel, chocolate, coffee) and colour (pale straw through rich ruby to deep brown) of the end result. Then there’s hops. Hops is actually a flower that’s grown on a vine, and it’s used to do two things; add bitterness to the sweet malt liquid, and also to bring aromas and flavours to the mix (so you just HAVE to wonder where Hops Bread comes from!!). Just like mangos, and apples, there are many different strains of hops, each with their own characteristics, which are then used in making different types of beers. Yeast (many brewers cultivate their own, and keep the details very secret) is then added to ferment all those complex sugars, and of course, we can’t forget water! And not just any old water either, as it’s hardness, softness, and mineral content are major elements of the particular style of beer being brewed, and it’s taste.

Beers fall into two broad categories: those produced by top-fermenting yeasts (ales, stouts and porters) and those made with bottom-fermenting yeasts (lagers). And just to confuse you, there are also hybrids!

Ales are the original beers. In the early days (Egyptian Pharaohs were often buried with supplies of beer) brewers weren’t aware that yeast even existed, but it was still an essential ingredient in the fermentation process, usually arriving in the form of wild, airborne yeast cells. In warm weather, the yeast in the ales continued to ferment the grain sugars at widely varied rates, depending on weather, location, and probably the random combination of different yeast strains. The end results were frequently a lottery. So brewers began to store their beer in as cool a place as possible. Those who stored their beer in very cold Alpine caves discovered their beer was more stable, lighter, and more consistent in taste. The reason was that during the cold storage process (lagerung in German – hence Lager), all the yeast cells sank to the bottom, and in the colder temperatures it was the bottom-fermenting yeasts that continued to function. At colder temperatures these yeasts worked slowly, producing beer more attenuated, rounder and less fruity than ales. Fermentation also took longer; up to three months, as opposed to three weeks for most ales.

Ales include everything with ale in the name (pale ale, amber ale, etc.), porters, stouts, Belgian specialty beers, wheat beers and many German specialty beers. They generally have a more robust taste, are more complex and are best consumed cool (50F or a bit warmer) rather than cold.

Lagers include pilseners, bocks, Hells, Oktoberfests, and a number of other mostly German styles. They are best consumed at a cooler temperature than ales, although anything served at less than 38F will lose most of its flavor. The pilsener style historically dominated the U.S. beer market, and later the Caribbean, but there now are plenty of other choices available. In T&T, the pilsner style predominates, with Carib and Stag the best known of the locally brewed beers. Popular lager imports include Heineken (the Netherlands), Corona (Mexico) and Coors (USA). Ales are a relatively recent addition to the local drinking landscape, but there is actually quite a wide range available from several British brewers, e.g. Badger, Belhaven, Fullers, Gales, Greene King, and Scottish & Newcastle. The key thing to note about these brewers is that they are all from very different parts of the U.K . In much the same way that wine enthusiasts compare regional notes between, say a Bordeaux, a Rioja and a Chianti, so too do the regional differences matter between ales – different water, different brewing traditions, different envelopes being pushed.

And a quick word on stout. It’s the roasted flavour that sets stout apart from other ale styles. This usually comes from roasted barley, which is barley grain that has not been malted, but highly kilned. This unique treatment for the grain creates flavours ranging from dry astringency to unsweetened chocolate to coffee.