I was sent a copy of Stephen Beaumont’s new book The Beer & Food Companion last week, a timely tome given the growing popularity of pairing beer and food and indeed cooking with beer. The latter’s not a new concept (beef and stout stew, anyone?), but the rise of craft beer and its overlap with street food has led to events, a major industry campaign and a glut of feature articles recently, with ever creative recipes using an increasingly diverse range of beers.
For my part, while I love beer and like to cook, I haven’t fully embraced the concept of pairing one with the other beyond downing a bottle of lager with my chicken Super Noodles. There are only so many hours in the day and some evenings it’s all I can do to put a serviceable meal on the table without giving consideration to selecting an appropriate beer as an accompaniment. However, I’m not a complete knuckle-head, and after going to London’s “Food Meets Beer” festival in the summer I was keen to get my hands on the book and learn more. The first thing that struck me about The Beer and Food Companion is that it is a fine-looking book with a pleasingly simple design, a simplicity I also like in beer labelling. Described as “the first global overview of beer and food parings”, its chapters include Beaumont’s take on beer styles, his recommended beer and food pairings, cooking with beer, a recipe section and a list of “100 great beer & food destinations”.
In his introduction, Beaumont makes the interesting contention that had the foundations of modern Western gastronomy been laid in the beer-drinking nations of northern or western Europe rather than France, drinking pales and porters rather than Bordeaux or Burgundy while dining may have been the norm in these countries. Wine, he argues, usurped beer’s rightful place at the dinner table; however, with an increasing tendency for eateries to include beer on the drinks menu and the recent arrival of beer-focused restaurants in London such as Beef and Brew in Kentish Town and Fulham’s Wahleeah, perhaps the tables are slowly turning.
In the relevant chapter, Beaumont also laments the intrusion of marketing departments in determining beer styles, questioning whether classification is even possible anymore. It is, he argues in the end, but for the purposes of the book he proposes a more simplified approach, defined by broad taste profiles (bitter or sweet, light or robust) followed by an overarching category, eschewing the 140 or so beer styles recognised by the Brewers Association.
Some recipes will suit the home brewer given that hops are listed as an ingredient. As a lay drinker and “cheesophile”, the rösti potato with wilted kale, goat cheese and beer beurre blanc appeals, while the chocolate, beetroot and stout cake is as good a reason as any to open one of the impy stouts gathering dust in the cupboard.
Aside from the occasional spelling error (I have no idea how they weren’t picked up in editing), The Beer and Food Companion is a great book for the beer-swilling, budding chef, and if I didn’t already have a copy I’d be dropping major Christmas-related hints…
Disclaimer: I was sent this book by Jacqui Small publishers; it normally retails at £25.00 and is released on 15 October