While pairing dishes with a nice glass of something isn't at all unexpected, we tend to think in terms of wine.
But beer can also be an interesting accompaniment - and some would say it's even better, given the range of flavours and complexities beers can offer.
We caught up with Richie Hamilton, head brewer of north Dublin's Hope Beer to find out more about pairing dishes (both savoury and sweet) with various beers and why beer makes such a good ingredient in cooking.
Can you tell us a little about Hope Beer and its ethos?
The Hope story started out in 2015 when the brewery was founded by a group of friends: Wim de Jongh, his wife Jeanne Mahony and Des McSwiggan. It’s an award-winning brewery that uses state-of-the-art German equipment to brew a core range of five beers, two seasonals and many limited editions throughout the year. We are fiercely committed to brewing extremely high-quality beer with a focus on food pairings, e.g. the label of each beer shows the types of food that pair best with that beer. We are also fully committed to sustainable brewing as underlined by our Origin Green membership.
Do people tend to overlook pairing beer with food?
Yes, definitely. Historically wine has always been the drink of choice when it comes to pairing alcohol with nice a meal but beer offers so much more in terms of different flavours. With wine you only have two ingredients, grapes and yeast, while with beer you have the various grains used, yeast, and an extra dimension from flavouring with different varieties of hops.
Also, depending on the beer style, there may be extra ingredients such as fruit, spices and coffee; the list is endless. Beer can pair with many non-European foods that, for me, simply don’t suit wine, such as spicy food and food that has a chilli heat. Wine is wonderful, but I think there are a lot of pairing jobs that beer can do better.
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What are some of the best pairings?
We love to recommend our citrusy wheat beer, Grunt with fish and other seafood. It’s the sort of food that has traditionally been dominated by white wine pairing, but we think that Grunt’s balance of tartness and dryness works really well. One of my favourite pairings is to match a sour beer with fatty foods such as pork or charcuterie. Fat and acid work really well together. Lagers such as our Underdog pair very well with salty food too. I also love to team really strong dark beers such as imperial stouts with strong cheese such as aged cheddar or stilton or other blue cheeses.
Can beers work with sweet as well as savoury dishes?
Absolutely, one of the nicest things to do is to pair a dark rich stout with a rich, dark chocolate or berries. Together is even better, such as enjoying an Imperial stout with a slice of chocolate raspberry cake. It’s magnificent! Beers such as IPAs that tend to have a full body and fruity hop flavours go well with chocolate and desserts, particularly ones involving fruit such as an apple or berry tart. Often stout can have coffee notes and this can pair really well with vanilla flavours, for example, ice-cream.
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What can beers bring as an ingredient in cooking?
Like any other alcohol, beer is great for tenderising meat during slow cooking where the recipe might otherwise use cider and wine. It’s great generally as the basis for a sauce too, and a beer gravy is the classic pairing to a good meat pie. The different flavour profiles of beer can bring extra dimensions to dishes. Red ales can provide a sweetness while stouts can bring a dark maltiness, for example in baking as well as stews and casseroles. Essentially, it’s about being creative. Beer is also a great ingredient in making battered fish, on account of the carbonation.
What are some of your favourite recipes?
I recently got into making my own mustard, and it’s very easy. The French use wine to soak the mustard seeds and instead I used our PassIfYouCan Pale Ale. I left it for a couple of days before blending to create a lovely mustard. Experimenting with different beers is really interesting in trying out different mustard flavours.
Last year we partnered with Kate O’Driscoll to create a series of recipes using our beer and we loved her creativity. They are so simple to make, and so tasty, that everyone here at the brewery has a favourite. For example, she used our Session IPA for a chicken & chorizo Spanish rice and a cheese dip using Handsome Jack IPA and even a lager and lime cake. So it’s not just about cooking, you can also bake with beer as well.
For more on Hope Beer go to Hopebeer.ie.