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Why are beer and food now such a trendy pair even in restaurants?

Beer has become a perfectly respectable accompaniment for food even in the finest restaurants. Many beers will go well with any food, but there are also more detailed guidelines for successful pairing.
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Pairing beer with premium restaurant food for example in fine dining is an emerging phenomenon. These days many high-end restaurants will recommend beers as naturally as wines. Beer sommelier Olli Majanen tells that many young restaurant owners have been trendsetters as they have boldly included beers on their menus. And the consumers’ expectations have changed as well.

“It has become more widely accepted to drink beer in high-end restaurants. The consumers know more about beers and are more adventurous about trying out different flavours,” says Majanen, who has graduated as beer sommelier from Beer Academy in London. He works as the restaurant manager in Bryggeri Helsinki.

Beer brings out the best in the food

Why does beer sommelier Olli Majanen think that beer deserves to be taken seriously as an accompaniment for food:

  • Alcohol content is relatively low, and the taste of alcohol does not overpower the aromas of the food.
  • The carbon dioxide fizz is good for cleansing the palate and reviving the sense of taste.
  • The bitterness of hops penetrates even strong aromas and balances the tastes of fat and umami, or “meatiness”.
  • The sweetness of malts balances toasted or bitter characteristics in the food. The sweetness can also soften for example smokiness or the burn of fiery foods.
  • Beer also goes harmoniously with ingredients that are not at their best with wine. It can be paired with for instance vinegar or egg.

Another advantage of beers is the variety and complexity of flavours.

“The spectrum of flavours from light to full-bodied is very broad, and there is also great variety in colours and aromas,” says Majanen.

Pair the right beer with the right food

There are some good rules of thumb for pairing beer and food.

“You should consider each time if you want similar flavours, contrasts or a palate-cleansing effect,” Majanen advices.

Try out at least these pairings of beer and food:

  1. Similar levels of intensity — light beer goes with light food, full-flavoured beer goes with full-flavoured food. Beer must not overpower the flavour of the food.
  2. Complementing effect — for example sour food can be paired with sour beer, and light vegetarian dishes with pale beer with light hop notes.
  3. Pairing opposites — you can choose a light beer as a counterpart for spicy, fiery or sweet foods. Sweetness and softness in the beer, on the other hand, can counterbalance sourness and saltiness in the food.
  4. Similar aromas — different kinds of beers have countless aromas, as do different kinds of foods. For example the herbal character of saison beers can be in harmony with the herbs in the food. Pale ale and brown ale have a nutty flavour that can also find its match on the plate.

Choose lighter beer for delicate foods

Majanen tells that usually his starting point is to find a beer that suits a certain dish. However, there are also beers that work with almost any food.

“A pale lager with a pure taste and also a slightly darker lager are great all-purpose beers. And so is a British-style pale ale that is not very bitter,” Majanen relishes.

There are also more detailed tips for different foods, although of course the elements of the dishes vary considerably. For example many delicate fish dishes go well with a mildly hoppy pale wheat beer that has a light flavour. For heavier meat dishes Majanen may choose for example a porter or a dark, mildly hoppy lager that goes particularly well with fried and roasted foods.

When pairing beer with desserts, the fruitiness of the yeast in German wheat beers can be a great match for fruits. For chocolate desserts on the other hand, a lighter stout with chocolate aroma is a good choice.

How should beer be served?

Majanen stresses how important it is for a restaurant to know the beers that it sells.

“Beer can go with any food, but if you want it to be a wow factor, you need to know the beers well and align them with the dishes. Styles and flavours need to be under control,” Majanen says.

When serving the beer, it is important to not pour it in the glass too quickly. That will result into too much foam, and the freshness of carbon dioxide fizz is lost.

In addition, beer does not always need to be served in full pints.

“Today’s trend is to serve beer in small portions. Selling a full pint of beer with a small starter will not make the customer happy. It is better to offer several alternatives for tasting and for sharing with the party.

Glasses with a stem are good for serving beer because then the warmness of the hand does not warm the drink. “The smallest portions of beer can well be served in white wine glasses, for example when a 0.33 litre bottle is shared between two people. And a shared half-a-litre bottle can be served in red wine glasses,” Majanen advices.

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