A friend of mine, somewhat tongue in cheek, asked me the other day if my life had changed since becoming one of the UK’s first four Beer Academy accredited beer sommeliers! OK, so life changing isn’t exactly the phrase that I might use to describe the experience; ‘glamorous’, great fun’, ‘exciting’ certainly….but it has afforded me the opportunity to think about beer in a different way.
My main interest with beer, other than having the opportunity to drink it, has always been focused on two things; firstly the overwhelming range and diversity of styles for a product that is made by combining just a handful of natural ingredients. Secondly, the quality and consistency of beer, not only from the brewing and malting processes but also in the farming practices used not just to cultivate hops and cereals, like barley and wheat, but also to develop exciting new varieties for brewers to work their magic on.
However, since donning my sommelier penguin suit and attempting to open bottles of beer with an old sword…mind the fingers…my eyes have become opened to the use of beer as the perfect companion for food, a choice which I believe is, in most cases, a better and easier one to make than wine! However, when talking to diners about beer and food matching, it appears that one of the most rewarding moves you can make as a newly accredited beer sommelier is to serve the amber nectar in something other than the ubiquitous pint glass.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a pint, but for many the simple change of serving beer in a wine glass appears something akin to bungee jumping in terms of an extreme experience…but maybe without the screaming? Once over the adrenaline rush however, our willing diners have undergone an almost immediate transformation in their perception of the nation’s favourite drink, suddenly becoming more interested in the colour and clarity, sparkling in the glass. Even the soft, cloudy character of wheat beers immediately becomes more palatable and attractive than when viewed as a ‘pint of yeast’! Interaction with the glass becomes instinctive; people tend automatically to handle the glass by the stem rather than the bowl, looking for the visual characteristics of the beer before noting the aroma and then, finally, savouring the taste and mouthfeel that completes the experience.
But the crowning glory at this stage is the realisation that beer character is far more complex than originally perceived. New flavours can be revealed whereas existing ones are combined to influence and enhance key characteristics of both beer and food, together and individually. At a recent dinner at the Bombay Brasserie, matching traditional Indian dishes with a range of beer styles, the flavours of vanilla or citrus that weren’t so apparent in the beer before eating suddenly became alive and overriding, helping to soften the spice and heat in the food and bring out other aromatic flavours beneath. My favourite beer and food match of the night…oddly enough…non-alcoholic Beck’s Blue which matched perfectly with the Prawn Tokri; batter fried spicy prawns served with fresh curry leaves and ginger stems…I dare you to try it, just make sure that you serve the beer chilled and in a stemmed glass!