Andy Gibson from Wild Beer Co, Somerset, tells us about the origins of beer and gives us his tips on how to pair it with food. “Food is at the heart of beer”
If you travel back through the history of Ancient Sumer or Egypt, you’ll discover that the earliest (recorded) form of beer was called ‘kvass’ and it was made by steeping loaves of bread in warm water. This works by reactivating the hydrolytic enzymes in malt so that they begin to break down the starches in the dough into simple, fermentable sugars for yeast to create alcohol from. At this time, beer was little more than porridge-like gruel. It was filtered through reed matts or drunk through a reed straw to avoid floating debris!
There is an anthropological argument that beer was responsible for the nomadic human beings of a millennia ago settling: agriculture was underway long before humans stopped roaming the grasslands of Mesopotamia, planting seasonal crops and timing harvests with the rhythm of the animals we herded; bread could be made in a few hours from these crops; but beer needed weeks to ferment and condition before being fit to drink – causing humans to need to stay in the same spot for long periods of time.
So, bread and beer were once synonymous, but what does that have to do with pairing beer and food?
Affinity. The very thing that makes a beer a beer is the malted barley that provides the fermentable sugars for yeast. The malt is kilned and toasted, turning darker the longer and hotter the kilning. This process is called the Maillard reaction, whereby anything that is cooked turns brown. You can therefore find shockingly similar flavours in malty beer to those in cooked foods. Think grilled meats, roasted vegetables, baked bread – perfect partners for a roast porter.
However, malt isn’t the only component of beer and, increasingly, it takes a back seat to a fairly new addition: hops. Hops are literally the spice to beer, added for their bitterness, to balance the sickeningly sweet malt. But they have stuck around because they also have anti-microbial properties and provide incredible aromas and flavours. Bitter flavours clash.
One such interaction is with chilli heat, which is less of a flavour and more of a sensation. Capsicum stimulates the pain receptors in your mouth. Bitterness is also perceived as a poison so evokes a similar reaction, heightening the sensation of heat. If you like your curries spicy, hot them up with a bitter India Pale Ale!
The crown jewel in pairing beer with food is beer’s ability to cut. Carbonation in beer literally scrubs your palate clean with every sip, helping to break down whatever you’re eating and exciting your taste buds at the same time, ready for the next bite. This is the area in which so many other drinks struggle when paired with rich dishes. The fats coat the inside of the mouth, dulling the tastebuds, so wine or whisky skates right past barely noticed. In particular, carbonation is apt at cutting through richness and fat, the CO2 molecules chemically break down the fatty lipids in meats and cheeses.
The last concept of pairing beer and food, and possibly the most important one, is matching intensity. Imagine trying to taste a delicate white fish dish while drinking an intense chocolate and coffee stout. The dish would be completely lost! And, vice versa, an easy drinking helles lager would be completely overpowered by a rich chocolate dessert.
Pairings should be able to compliment, contrast and cut, without overbearing each other. Finding harmony and creating flavours greater than the sum
of the parts of the pairing is the magical answer.
Beer and food are best when enjoyed with consideration given to appellation. There is a reason that some areas are famous for certain food and drink and it’s a good rule of thumb to enjoy products from the same area together: Bavarian Dunkel Lager with Bratwurst; Belgian Gueuze with Moules Frites; American Pale Ale with burgers. They all work!
The idea of using location to pair beer and food is exemplified by cheese. Historically, beer has always been a farmhouse product, created using ingredients grown on the farm and fermented with pretty wild, naturally occurring yeasts. As such, every farmhouse had its own ingredients, processes and culture of yeast, making it truly unique. Cheese is also unique to its appellation. Milk takes on nutrients from the local area and cheese cultures are different in every valley. Asides from this, the lead farm hand would have been in charge of cheese production and brewing – so the same dirty
pair of hands would be involved in both fermentation processes.
Finally, they both go through a very similar process: grasses (barley or grass) are converted into sugars (either maltose or lactose) which is then fermented (into beer or cheese).
Beer and Food is all about the interaction of flavours – a conversation with your own palate. It should be a social interaction and spark genuine conversation. What could possibly be better than bringing good people together to eat good food and drink good beer?
Who Are Wild Beer Co?
The Wild Beer Co was founded in 2012 by Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis in the heart of Somerset on Westcombe Dairy Farm.
Very much rooted in the rural countryside, embracing a sense of terroir by using foraged local ingredients and naturally occurring wild yeasts – taking beer back to it’s farmhouse roots.
Specialising in wild, spontaneous and sour fermentations they have a barrel library 400 strong. Barrel-ageing and blending are at the heart of the Wild Beer co. Inspired by practices from cider, wine and whisky production they will often blend several batches and vintages to create one beer.
The Wild Beer Co was born out of a love of fermentation, barrel ageing and most importantly, flavour. Their beers pair incredibly well with food, being served alongside dishes from burger bars to Michelin star restaurants.
Opening their first restaurant and bar in Cheltenham, Wild Beer at Jessop House, was a natural progression from the brewery and now Wapping Wharf in Bristol. With a focus on flavour and experimentation, being able to bring that to food, with their beer both as an ingredient and as a partner, pairing menus are the culmination of their ethos as a brewery.
Drink Wildly Different.
Wild Beer feature in Signature Chefs Recipe Book: South West & Channel Islands. Recipes, food and beer matching tips with full profile. More Here