By Malu Lambert
Photography by C&D Heierli
There’s no spittoon on our lunch table. “You don’t spit in beer tastings,” is Lucy Corne’s first piece of advice. This ‘all-round hophead’ should know. She’s a judge for the Beer Judge Certification Programme, the author of African Brew, and has a blog called The Brewmistress.
As we delve into the world of beer-and-food pairing, it’s quite ironic that our other guest, Anel Grobler, heads up an irreverent online drinking guide, Spit or Swallow. Though she assures us, “I never spit in wine tastings either.”
The setting for our salubrious soirée is a loft in Cape Town. Sunlight spills through the many windows, beers frost over in big metal ice buckets—suddenly we’re all feeling very thirsty.
We kick off with SMOKED MAPLE CARAMEL POPCORN: a grown-up version of a childhood favourite, and what’s even more adult is the pairing. Beer. We try the frothy red, Lumberjack Amber Ale (Jack Black) and find the roasted malt flavours complement the smoke.
“The malty-ness of Amstel goes well with the popcorn too,” says Lucy. “I prefer the Lumberjack because it’s sweet, and the sweetness of the popcorn makes the beer more bitter, which I actually like.”
Overall, Anel says she enjoys the match, “but I guess it works because of the smoky flavour. Normal popcorn may be too light to stand up to most beers.”
When it comes to the basics of beer-and-food pairing, much of the same principles apply as with wine. Lucy agrees: “You match the intensity. You wouldn’t serve a wit beer [a pale Belgian wheat style] with barbeque ribs. It’s all about complementary flavours.”
The next course, TUNA CEVICHE ON TACOS WITH CHUNKY GUACAMOLE, illustrates this. Though it’s a match for the lighter offerings too, Sunday IPA (&Union), with its notes of citrus and orange peel, elevate the citrusy dish as a whole.
“There are lots of flavours in beer,” continues Lucy. “One of the easiest to pick up is roasted beef from roasted barley.” And with that we segue neatly into the next offering of BRIE, STEAK AND CARAMELISED RED ONION ON TOASTED CIABATTA (a gastro take on a ‘Philly Cheese’).
An American Pale Ale, The Butcher Block (Jack Black) is light enough to suit a sandwich, yet its rich malt flavour marries beautifully with the meat. We also like it with the Beast of the Deep (&Union), the caramelised onions pair well with the brew’s honeyed profile.
‘Beer is liquid bread. You wouldn’t think twice about putting cheese on bread, would you?’
One craft beer doesn’t fare so well. The table is immediately put off by its sourness. Unfortunately, this isn’t unfamiliar. There seems to be a lack of consistency in the craft beer scene, which is starting to give it a bad name.
“The real skill in brewing comes from producing the same beer over and over again. There’s a difference between craft beer and crap beer,” states Lucy. “I drink good beer.”
“Yes,” joins in Anel, “in the industry there’s enough to pick and choose from, but in general the home-brewers lack balance.”
If she finds that a beer has been badly made, Lucy will take it back to the store. The reaction she sometimes gets is: “It’s craft beer, it does taste different,” to which her reply is usually, “yes, and it doesn’t taste like beer.” Granted, some are meant to be sour, such as Belgian Lambics, but that’s a style, not a fault.
Another thing to look out for is an Elastoplast aroma, which can indicate poor sanitary conditions in the brewery.
What are some of the craft brewers we can trust? Stories are traded between sips of beers, and we concur Devil’s Peak, Cape Brewing Company (CBC) and Jack Black are all craft breweries you can rely on for a stable product. Though of course there are plenty more. The artisanal beer industry is an exciting, exponentially growing market—and what a pity it would be to put consumers off because of poor brewing practices by some. In fact, Lucy’s new book, Beer Safari, explores the craft beer world of South Africa.
Onto our next dish—hot out of the fryer, are golden BUTTERMILK CRUSTED CHICKEN WINGS. “All fried food is good with beer,” smiles Lucy.
The Mandarina Bavaria IPA (CBC) is on the fruity side with refreshing naartjie, nectarine and lemon notes—and everyone agrees it’s the match of the day so far with the citrusy, slightly spicy chicken.
What kind of beer should you drink with spicy food in general? Avoid hoppy beer, as it brings out the spice [unless you like that sort of thing]. “I personally prefer a malted beer or a pilsner,” from Lucy.
The last pairing of the day is HONEY BALSAMIC GLAZED PULLED PORK; with pork crackling on the side. Crispy, salty, rich pork scratchings with an icy beer is the equivalent to caviar and champagne in the wine world.
We pour glasses of the Schneider Weisse wheat beer, and its sweet-fruit enhances the honey of the pork buns—which inspires us all to go back to the caramel popcorn—and with great success.
And while there are plenty of similarities between wine and beer when it comes to food pairing, there are some things beer does better. Lucy: “The taste of wine changes with food, while with beer it doesn’t so much. It also goes much better with chocolate than wine does.
“Beer goes particularly well with desserts,” Lucy goes on. “The bubbles are a big part of it; they cut through the rich, creamy textures and flavours, acting as a palate cleanser. Plus, malted beers naturally have flavours of coffee, chocolate and toffee.”
Cheese is another perfect pairing. “Beer is liquid bread,” says Lucy. “You wouldn’t think twice about putting cheese on bread, would you?”
And thinking about it like that … what type of food would you hesitate to put on a sandwich? Ale, lager, pilsner, weiss—all brews are liquid bread, just waiting for the right filling.
The food recipes, created by Diane Heierli, can be found:
Smoked maple caramel popcorn
Buttermilk fried chicken
Honey balsamic glazed pulled pork buns
Taco topped with tuna ceviche and guacamole
Brie, steak and caramelised red onion on toasted ciabatta
A Top Five
The Brewmistress shares her top five food and beer pairings.
1. Boston Breweries Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale: a supreme food beer—it’s brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg and butternut—that pairs best with something fragrant and spicy. Cape Malay curries are ideal.
2. Loxton Lager: it’s brewed with buchu and other fynbos herbs, and so goes well with well-seasoned food. “I like it with coriander seeds—so you can’t beat a good, spicy boerewors.”
3. Dog & Fig Stewige/Sturdy Stout: an award-winning beer with lots of coffee and chocolate flavours that goes beautifully with a gooey, chocolate-based dessert.
4. Woodstock Brewery Californicator IPA: it’s a big, hop-forward beer that pairs well with strong cheeses. “Some swear by blue cheese, though I prefer it with a sharp Gruyère.”
5. Maredsous Brune: an imported Belgian beer with rich, toffee tones. “I think it’s a delicious beer to pair with a rich beef stew.”