How to pair craft beer with food, without going down the meaty road? Beer writer Mark Dredge knows how. Here, he talks about beer and veg, and gives tips for great autumn pairings.
Which beer to have with a lovely meal or a delicious treat? Stuck with the idea of a beef burger with a hoppy IPA? Perhaps you’re vegetarian or vegan, and can’t seem to find any good beers to go with your food? Don’t fret, there are heaps of great pairings out there.
To hear more about the joy of matching beer and food, I turned to Mark Dredge, award-winning beer, food and travel writer. His new book Beer and Veg: Combining great craft beer with vegetarian and vegan food was published this summer. It brings together craft beer and vegetarian and vegan food, with tasty pairings and recipes using beer.
Why did you write a book about beer and veggie food?
Beer and food, almost by default, has come to be beer and meat. Just think about the classic beer and food pairings around the world and meat is in every dish––stews, pies, sausages, pork knuckles, fish and chips, burgers––but I don’t think that reflects the modern beer drinker so well anymore, and it doesn’t reflect me and my diet as I’ve been vegetarian (and mostly vegan, actually) for a few years now. I wanted to show just how great beer is with vegetables instead of meat.
What might surprise people about pairing beer with food?
One of the main things I’ve realised is that it’s rare that we actually pair a beer to the protein in a dish, and really we’re matching the beer with the cooking process or the seasoning and side dishes.
What I love is finding those simple pairings that just work nicely together. They don’t set off fireworks, they don’t over-engage you, and they just give you a really good, simple experience. I often hear people say that they don’t like having beer with food, or they don’t understand how to pair it, but the reality is that the best pairings are often the simplest ones which don’t detract from the experience of enjoying some nice food with some nice beer.
A lot of the time I’m thinking about a beer pairing in terms of how it balances the food, not how it has an impact with it. I want all the flavours to work together, and often that means balancing an intensity which could be chilli heat, high fat or salt, or a very bitter beer. There’s a reason why we like salty snacks with beer and that’s because they balance each other really well.
Which beers are best for matching? Do you have any favourite styles?
One thing I always like to think about is what dish or flavour would be local to where this style is from. So if I’m having a Porter, I’m wondering first of all what would be served with this in a British pub, and then I’m thinking about how I could make that dish vegetarian or vegan, if it isn’t already. The idea of a ‘local pairing’ is an important one as these matches have casually worked together for generations.
There are definitely great styles for food and I always like a bit of malt body and richness, so styles like dark lagers, dark wheat beers and Belgian Dubbels are really good all-rounders with food, where they can add a bit of sweetness but there seems to be an underlying flavour-enhancing umami character plus a bitterness or some spice. Think about dishes which include soy sauce, miso, tomato, and spices like cinnamon or star anise, and those beers have a natural affinity.
Any suggestions for autumn pairings, as it’s getting cold and dark outside?
One pairing I love at the moment is a whole roasted cauliflower, covered with a mix of tahini, soy sauce and garlic, and served with a Dubbel or Dunkelweizen. You can serve other veg on the side, or put it in a pitta as well. It’s such a good match of flavours.
Some other favourites are cauliflower cheese or mac n cheese with a classic English pale ale, daal with Hefeweizen, something like cottage pie (meaty or meat-free) with Porter or Dubbel is great, roasted squash with smoked beer, Belgian Quadrupel with baked apple or apple crumble.