Nigel Sadler, the UK’s first beer sommelier and tutor at The Beer Academy, talks pairing beer with food…

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Welcome to the first of my articles for EAUX as resident beer sommelier. Over the coming months I will to take the chance to elaborate on some of the basics involved in food and beer matching, after all, it is a relatively new idea to most people and is certainly an exciting area worth exploring. Why choose beer over wine? It could be for a number of reasons: lower alcohol content, greater flavour range and versatility or even just to keep costs down when eating out. You’ll be amazed at how often a beer works better than a wine when matched with certain dishes. Above all have fun experimenting – there are no hard and fast rules!

Over the next few articles I want to guide you through some of the basics, introduce you to a few beer styles and show some pairings with the featured recipes which this month include Goat’s Cheese Salad with Tapenade Toasts, Copppino and Lemon and Rosemary Posset.

First of all let’s take a look at beer itself. Often regarded as the poor relation to wine, it’s actually a very complex drink involving up to 12 ingredients. For a start, there’s a whole range of different malt (that’s the dried, kilned part-germinated barley grains), which not only provide the sugars needed for fermentation but gives both colour and flavour. Then there are the wonderfully aromatic hops – the herbs and spices if you like. Finally, but by no means least both the yeast and the water used for brewing contribute greatly. All of these add differing depths and dimensions to the flavour of beer. You might be surprised to learn there are now some 143 recognised beer styles today and some 19,000 brands here in the UK alone.

What are the basic principles of food and beer pairing? First of all treat blonde/golden beers and lagers as you would white wines and the darker stronger bitters and porters as reds. Secondly, we need to understand what we’re looking for in any food and drink matching; One must enhance the other: thus the drink enhances the food and vice versa.

So how does that work exactly? Well you’re looking to complement, contrast, co-ordinate and/or cleanse (cut). These four ‘Cs’ are what we will be looking to follow. Complementing uses a similar flavour or characteristic in the beer and food, contrasting places the food and beer on opposite sides of the plate e.g. sweet against sour, co-ordinating balances food and beer intensity, finally cleansing (sometimes known as ‘cutting’) lifts and removes fats or oils leaving the palate fresh and ready for the next mouthful.

So until next time I’ll leave with my recommendations for this month’s recipe of Goat’s Cheese Salad and Tapenade Toasts, a dish with an exciting array of flavours and textures. Generally a sharpish spicy beer would be my choice here to counter the tangy earthy notes of the cheese and slight oiliness of the tapenade. I would recommend either Boon Geuze Mariage Parfait at 8% ABV or St. Fuillien’s Saison, 6.5% ABV, farmhouse style ale, both are Belgian beers. The Boon beer is created from a blend from 95% mild lambic beer, aged at least three years in wooden casks and 5% young lambic. It is softly tart with hints of fruit and spice. The Saison being crisp, dry, slightly tangy and with a discrete hoppiness. For a similar local beer I’d look for Cambridgeshire based Elgood & Sons, www.elgoods-brewery.co.uk, Coolship Blonde at 6% ABV. Produced by spontaneous fermentation, the same as Belgian Lambic and Gueuze beers, in their unique double coolships. A long period of fermentation and maturation in special tanks enables naturally occurring wild yeasts, combined with oak, to create its sharp fruity flavour. A true sour English ale.