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Ever matched pizza with pilsner? If not, it’s about time you did, says Ben McFarland. Breweries are booming and there’s never been a better time to experiment with beer
Beer is back. And if evidence were needed of this beer revolution, one has only to look at what’s going down in London. In the 19th century, London was the brewing capital of the world, and home to more than 100 breweries. By 2007, only two significant breweries remained: Meantime and Fuller’s, the oldest brewery in London.
Today, however, London brewing is making a Lazarus-style comeback. Redemption and Camden Town in north London, The Kernel and Sambrook in the south, Brodie’s out east, and Windsor & Eton in the
west are just half-a-dozen new microbreweries to have emerged in and around the capital.
The arrival of several new bars and restaurants dedicated to craft beer (boutique beers made with particular skill and attention to detail) has further emboldened London’s beer scene. New ventures like the trio of Draft Houses (Northcote, Westbridge, Tower Bridge), Euston Tap, Southampton Arms in Kentish Town, CASK in Pimlico, The Queen’s Head in King’s Cross, and Mason & Taylor in Shoreditch have made their beer offering one of their main attractions.
Restaurants are broadening their beer horizons, too. The Michelin-starred Quilon recently unveiled an all-British vintage beer list including eight versions of Fuller’s Vintage Ale ranging from 1999 to 2010, served in brandy balloons and priced at £12-14 per bottle (500ml). Chef Sriram Aylur, who also serves Gales Prize Old Ale from Fuller’s, says: ‘We are already selling an average of seven bottles a day and I really hope that other British brewers will see the gastronomic potential of laying down vintage beers.’ Elsewhere, Bar Boulud has compiled a quality craft beer collection to complement its food, while award-winning steak specialist Hawksmoor is even brewing its own bespoke beer in collaboration with two London micros.
The beer buzz is by no means confined to London. There are more than 750 micros and craft breweries in the UK (more than at any time since the Second World War). The vast majority are independent, and in terms of innovation and entrepreneurial verve, the likes of Thornbridge in Bakewell, The Kernel in London, Dark Star in West Sussex and BrewDog in Fraserburgh are pushing more envelopes than an over-excited octopus in a sorting office. Regardless of where you live in the UK, you are never more than 10 miles from a brewery.
And it’s not just the UK that’s waking up to beer. The beer revolution is a global phenomenon, evident everywhere from Osaka to Oregon and Toronto to Tel Aviv. Well-established brewing behemoths
like Belgium, the Czech Republic and Germany are home to both traditional and New
World breweries, while nations such as Denmark, Italy, Japan and America – once considered bland beer territory – are now producing some of the classiest and quirkiest beers on the planet, many of which are finding favour with
In London, it’s currently America that’s making waves among the craft-beer cognoscenti. Beers from Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn, Goose Island and Anchor have been available here for quite some time, but what was once a ripple of beers coming across the pond has, in the past couple of years, built up into a wave. British drinkers can now experience the hoppy ales from Dogfish Head in Delaware; the Flying Dog beers, famously favoured by Hunter S Thompson; and some immensely innovative barrel-aged ales from Californian brewers such as AleSmith and The Lost Abbey.
Arguably blazing the biggest trail, however, is Blue Moon – an unfiltered Belgian-style wheat beer brewed in Colorado. Creamy and a little spicy with a citrus finish, it’s a great match with grilled chicken and Caesar salads, and is an ideal breakfast beer with eggs Benedict. Seriously: try it. There are many areas in one’s life where monogamy is regarded as the more acceptable approach – love life and type fonts being just two – but drinking is not one of them.
If you find the concept of matching beer with food a little hard to swallow, then enlighten your laughing gear by trying these combinations: Duvel, a classic golden Belgian ale, with lobster; Asahi Black with sushi; a hoppy IPA with spicy tandoori dishes; Innis & Gunn, a beer aged in whisky barrels, with crème caramel; or Harviestoun Schiehallion, a cask-conditioned lager from Scotland, with a summer BBQ. Not forgetting Kingfisher, a classic partner to poppadoms, and Tiger, brewed all over the Orient, which remains popular with pan-Asian cuisine.
And then, of course, there’s beer and pizza. All beer goes with pizza – it’s a scientific fact. But some go better than others, and it’s no surprise that several of the best hail from Italy.
Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Italy’s biggest beer export, has broadened its appeal beyond Italian restaurants to become the leading player in the premium pilsner market – growing at nearly 25% per annum. Birra Moretti, founded in 1859 and brewed in Udine, is another Italian lager on the rise, while its neighbour, Castello, can currently be found in Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurants alongside Birra Messina, brewed in Sicily.
At Zizzi restaurants, pizza and pasta is paired with both Menabrea 1846, brewed at the foot of the Alps in a family-owned brewery, and Amarcord Gradisca – a malt-driven craft lager created in Rimini. Other Italian craft breweries to look out for include Panil, Birrificio Italiano and Baladin.
Estrella Damm, the brew belonging to Barcelona, is one of several Spanish beers making an impression in the UK and tapping into the tapas scene. Founded by an Alsatian brewer in 1876, the Damm brewery joined forces with El Bulli restaurant in 2008 to create InEdit Damm, a bottle-conditioned, wheat beer-cum-pilsner designed to be drunk with food. Designed by chef Ferran Adrià, it’s seasoned with orange peel, coriander and liquorice, and comes in a slick-looking 75cl bottle.
Mahou, from Madrid, is making moves in bars and restaurants while Alhambra Reserva, sourced from Granada, is a superb Spanish beer with enough sweetness to stand up to charcuterie.
These fusions of flavour are just a few examples of beer and food’s potential. The culinary combinations are endless, and – unlike wine – pleasurably affordable.
A devilishly drinkable Belgian golden classic. Bottle conditioned – it’s fruity and floral with a touch of cloves and a spicy send-off.
£1.82 (330ml), Sainsbury’s
Harviestoun Schiehallion (4.8%)
A lovingly crafted lager, with a sturdy biscuit malt and a snappy citrus hop. Pear drops, grapefruit and hints of lemongrass.
£2.90 (500ml), Drink of Fulham
Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer (6.6%)
An exceptionally moreish oak-aged beer matured in Scotch whisky casks. Delivers delicate vanilla and citrus aromas, with hints of honey, oak and orange.
£1.89 (330ml), Waitrose
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%)
The fruity and floral founding father of the American craft-brewing revolution is a drinkable, yet distinctive, refreshing summer ale with hints of pine, lychees and grapefruit. The perfect BBQ beer.
£1.79 (350ml), Sainsbury’s
Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (5.9%)
An American interpretation of a quintessentially English beer style. Hoppy yet beautifully balanced and a perfect companion to curry.
£2.25 (500ml), Waitrose
This feature was published in the summer 2011 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.