Adventures in grain (rather than grape)

My local is turning into something of a destination pub these days. As we head towards winter, a night of good food and good company at a location not far from my flat seems even more appealing, so I signed up to the Dial Arch‘s mailing list to make sure I didn’t miss any events or special offers. The last thing I expected when was to see a familiar name in one of their newsletters, so I was very excited when I saw that beer expert Melissa Cole was coming to Woolwich to host a ‘beer and food matched’ dinner.

After reading about Melissa’s tour of the Great British Beer Festival in BitchBuzz a few years ago, I started following her blog, Taking the Beard out of Beer. As a woman who’s never really understood the appeal of wine, it was refreshing to find a way of learning a bit more about ale from someone who, like me, doesn’t understand why breweries keep trying to come up with ‘girly’ beers. We like real ale just the way it is, thank you very much. (Well, perhaps with fewer ‘punny’ names and sexist pump clips.) I don’t always choose beer to go with a meal while I’m out though, as most people match food with wine so it’s just easier to go with the flow. Seeing as I’d much rather drink ale, I couldn’t resist the idea of a meal where each course is paired with a beer. So, last Friday night, I headed to the Dial Arch with a CAMRA member and someone who was convinced she didn’t like beer, to see what Melissa Cole could teach us. This was the menu:

Starter
Denhay cheddar & Somerset brie with Young’s Special soup, topped with herb croutons
Grilled sardine bruschetta with rocket drizzled with balsamic
Pan fried chicken liver with toasted brioche with lashings of Courvoisier sauce

Main
Gold Standard chicken, ham & leek pie served with creamy mash potatoes and black cabbage
Somerset brie & mushroom Wellington in a rich tomato & basil sauce
Braised beef brisket with baby onions in a Young’s Chocolate Stout jus with creamy mash potatoes
Steamed whole sea bream with olives and a red pepper sauce served with sautéed new potatoes

Dessert
Young’s London Gold poached rhubarb & apple crumble with vanilla custard
Sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel ice cream
Baileys filled profiteroles with rich chocolate sauce

After a fantastic history of different types of beer, our food and drink began to arrive. As I expected, the pairings were rather lovely indeed. My sardines came with a deliciously light half of Redemption Trinity, whereas my dining companions’ soup was accompanied by Meantime Wheat Beer. Our wine drinker took a sip and waited for the hoppy aftertaste that she hates… but it didn’t come. Straight away, Melissa had found an ale to tempt the non-beer drinker! Interestingly, Meantime have food pairing suggestions listed against all their beers on their website, so I might even try my own matching with bottles from this fantastic local brewery.

We’d all chosen something different for our main course, so we got to try out three of Melissa’s pairings this time. My beef was matched with a half of Young’s Special, the sea bream came with Meantime Pale Ale, and the veggie Wellington was accompanied by Young’s Sundown. We all tasted each other’s food and drink combinations – to get the full effect, naturally – and then got a final bit of beer banter from Melissa before dessert. I was delighted to discover that my rhubarb & apple crumble came with a half of one of my favourite ales, Waggle Dance. Sadly, my joy was short-lived as the other puddings came with… a beer cocktail! The sticky toffee pudding arrived with a mixture of Well’s Banana Bread Beer (another of my favourites), Meantime Wheat Beer and Maker’s Mark bourbon. I managed to blag a sip and it was far better than any dessert wine I have ever tasted! One of the other diners left some of her cocktail at the end of the evening and we swiftly polished it off, like the classy folk we are. I can’t quite remember what was in it (Guinness, Tia Maria and… something), but I do recall that it was tasty. Very tasty indeed.

So, it looks like matching your food to beer works well, as long as you have a little knowledge and stick to half pints. If you want to try this for yourself, there is more information about this type of thing on Melissa’s website, Let Me Tell You About Beer. I shall definitely be keeping my eye on the beer menu next time I go out for food.

Image via Let Me Tell You About Beer.

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