Business Times – 17 May 2008
By CHRISTOPHER LIM
‘WINE goes great with food; it’s just that beer with food is even better,’ declares Archipelago brewmaster Fal Allen with gusto. While that is a fairly contentious statement, to say the least, it does highlight the fact that it’s certainly easier to pair food with beer than wine, and that’s exactly what more bars and restaurants are doing.
The secret good news to experimenting with different beers and food is that there are no real disasters. Some beers will, of course, complement certain dishes better than others, but you’re not governed by the delicate balance of acid in wines that can result in some pretty awful tastes when you light on an unfortunate combination. So, fiddle with abandon, and you’ll eventually discover a pairing you like.
Archipelago’s Allen suggests a few rules of thumb. ‘Look for similar taste characteristics between the beer and the food,’ he advises. ‘If there are acidic flavours in there, look for a light beer with something like that,’ Mr Allen adds. This would mean that light wheat beers often go well with seafood and dishes with a bit of fruit and spice. Conversely, red meat and game generally go better with dark ales and stouts.
An obvious alternative to blind experimentation is to go with a set menu that’s been collaboratively assembled by a chef and a brewmaster. On April 29, The Pump Room microbrewery and bistro at Clarke Quay organised its first beer pairing dinner, which was a one-night-only affair.
Starters were smoked pork and vegetable terrine, and beef consomme with caramelised onion ravioli, paired with the Lager and Wheat Ale, respectively. A pair of seafood dishes – black mussels in tomato, garlic, chilli and white wine, and assam fish curry – went with Bohemian Lager and India Pale Ale (IPA). And the main course of venison pie with macadamia nut polenta was served with the appropriately nutty Scottish Ale.
The stout-vanilla flute dessert was an excellent illustration of why it’s a good idea to have both a brewmaster and a chef work on the pairings. It was basically Pump Room’s stout with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and consultant chef Karl Dobler advised guests to wait until the ice cream melted before digging in. ‘If you don’t let it mix completely into the beer, the stout will be overpowering,’ said chef Dobler. But Pump Room brewmaster Alex Chasko waved away the suggestion with a smile, saying: ‘You can wait for it to melt if you want but it’s really not necessary.
In this case, Mr Chasko had it right since his stout isn’t particularly strong, and the contrast between its bitterness and the ice cream’s sweetness made this stout float an even better match than root beer and ice cream. Hopefully, the stout-vanilla flute will eventually be added to the regular menu. But chef Dobler’s sensibilities were on the money when he diluted the assam fish curry. Even the robust IPA was drowned out by the dish’s spicy tamarind and chilli seasoning.
‘I do think beer goes better with food than wine,’ Mr Chasko says. ‘Part of it is personal preference, but it’s also about the various processes we have to work with that let us make very different beers, whereas in wine you’re basically restricted to crushing grapes and storing them,’ he adds.
While it helps to have the brewmaster involved with food pairings when you’re dealing with microbrewed beers, the same doesn’t necessarily apply to established Belgian beers, which have proven their suitability with food for years.
Fine-dining bistro Brussels Sprouts, at The Pier, has beer-pairing promotions such as an excellent braised lamb shank with gibelotte sauce and 330ml of Affligem Dubbel for $36. And more down-to-earth Ooster’s, at Far East Square, has beer recommendations for all of its entrees, such as Stella Artois with fish and chips, and Leffe Brune with Boeuf Brabancon. Relish, at Cluny Court, also has specific Belgian beer recommendations to go with its gourmet burgers, which gives a whole new spin to beer and burgers.
If you’re wondering what food to pair with Guinness, however, John Galvin, marketing manager for Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore, has suggestions for both the milder draught variety found in places such as Harry’s and Irish Pubs, and the hardcore Foreign Extra Stout variety preferred in local coffee shops.
‘The rich, creamy and smooth taste of Guinness Draught works very well with Oxtail stew, grilled meats, beef rendang, Hokkien Mee and Char Kway Teow,’ he says. ‘Guinness Foreign Extra Stout in contrast, with its stronger, slightly sour taste, blends better with spicy and rich food such as sambal stingray,’ Mr Galvin adds. How’s that for Singapore-specific pairing advice?
People will have to become more adventurous before there’s sufficient demand for beer-pairings to truly become widespread. For example, only a handful of people showed up for The Pump Room’s $85++ dinner, which is probably why there are still no plans to do hold another one.