by Jane Peyton, award-winning writer, drinks educator and beer sommelier.
When people ask what I do as a job and I respond that I am a drinks educator the response is always laughter. Then when I explain that I am the founder and Principal of the School of Booze and that at my school, course work and homework is done in the pub, they laugh even more. But for this lesson we are going on a field trip to learn about how why beer and cider are so good with food. Choose your destination – barbeque, picnic, music festival. I’ll bring the beer and cider. My choices are all available in cans. Cans have several benefits that make them a practical choice for outdoor drinking. They are lightweight and portable, they are unbreakable, the contents cool down quickly, and they are easy to open.
When matching cider with food people often think of foods that go well with apples. Pears, crumble? Forget the apples and think instead of cider as wine. We don’t match wine with foods that go well with grapes; instead we consider acidity, tannins, and degrees of sweetness. It is the same rule with cider.
With beer many people just think of it as little more than a pint of bitter, a run-of-the-mill one-note libation. On the contrary, with over 140 different styles, beer has the most variety of any alcoholic drink. There are bitter, savoury, salty, sweet and acidic beers. Beer also contains acidity, tannins and has a plethora of flavours. The flavours act as counterpoint or complement to what is being eaten.
Acidity efficiently cuts through fat, adding a range of flavours to the dish and acting as a palate cleanser. It also acts as a contrast to sweet food.
Tannins are compounds found in apple skins, pips and stalks and with beer in hops and malt. Tannins register in the mouth as astringency and bitterness. They attach to fatty proteins in food thereby stripping them from the palate, refreshing it for the next mouthful. The more fatty, textured or chewy the food, the higher the tannins necessary to manage it.
Cider has degrees of sweetness and so do many beers (from the barley sugars). Sweetness contrasts with salty food, it mellows spice, balances rich foods, and complements desserts.
Beer and cider also have carbonation and this cuts through the texture and flavour of food, balances the richness, and cleanses the palate ready for another mouthful.
Those are the tools, how about some beers and ciders widely available in cans? These are some of my favourites and suggestions of occasions to drink them with food.
8 Ball Rye IPA by Beavertown
Spicy rye meets with zesty citrus, tropical and pine hops. The beer has a dry bitterness balanced with caramel and sweet biscuit maltiness. Drink this with barbecued pulled pork.
Indy Lager by Four Pure
Delicate spice and lemon zestiness in this light, crisp and easy-drinking Helles lager. Drink this at a barbecue with grilled crayfish.
Pinata Tropical Pale Ale by North Brewing Company
Guava and mango, with orange and grapefruit peel all added to ramp up the luscious fruit salad character of this beer. The crisp, dry finish makes it a foil for smoked salmon at a picnic.
Reveller Medium Dry Cider by Orchard Pig
Ripe fruity apple flavour in an easy-drinking sparkling cider with mild tannins, a balance of sweetness and refreshing acidity followed by a tangy citrus finish. Cider and music festivals are best friends – match the Reveller with a falafel from the street food stand.
Bon appetit and bottoms up!