Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Good Beer Lunches

I have never written about beer before. I might have mentioned that one of my P.I.E.S may have had a beer whilst we were dining, but to be honest, beer is not something I pay much attention to. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I have never, ever, had a full beer in my life. I just haven't really needed to. My other friends sigh and call me a snob- but snobbery has nothing to do with it- I just haven't ever liked the stuff.

Imagine my surprise when I recevied an email from 'Beer Matt' inviting me along to one of his Good Beer Lunches. Good Beer Lunches occur all throughout the year and their mission is to show Australians the many facets of great beer; its myriad flavours, its ancient origins and its unsurpassed ability to match with food.  

My first thoughts were that I probably wouldn't be a great candidate for a beer lunch and I told him so, but Matt explained that I was actually just the sort of skeptic he was after. He thinks of himself as a beer evangalist/coach and is trying his very best to change the perception of beer, showing that it doesn't have to be a bland weapon of mass consumption but instead can be flavourful, interesting and challening, especially when matched with food, so a non beer drinking beer skeptic would work well. He assured me that it was anything but blokey and promised a good time. Hey, I may not be a fan of beer but I'm a fan of fun and always want to learn more about anything- the fact that the beer was matched with some scrumptious sounding food also had me in!

So off I went to Beer 101 a couple of Sundays ago at the 'Platform Next Level Bar' in the Grand Central Hotel in the City. Upon arrival Matt greeted us with our first beer. I have to admit I was a little nervous and intimidated. Before me, stood about 10 other people, happily drinking their beers without sipping hesitantly like I knew I was going to be. 

Matt introduced me to the group, and then asked what I thought of the first beer which was a Stone & Wood draught ale. ARGH! Why are you asking me?! I'm probably going to be wrong!! With food, I can be pretty sure I know what I'm talking about, but with beer, no freaking clue. 'Ummm Passionfruit I guess' was my answer and the group nodded and I wondered if it was because they felt a little sorry for me, as I had just explained that I had never really had a beer before- but no, turns out different people taste different things in beer, just as they do in wine, but this beer did use fruity hops so passionfruit was right on track, Score point for not looking like a total loser in front of my new beer aficionado friends! I shouldn't have worried, they were all really lovely and Matt told me, there is no wrong answer- apparently! As a first beer (on the day- I have TASTED beer before!) I actually didn't mind it at all. It was fresh tasting and not heavy to drink. The beer a little cloudy, indicating that it had not yet been filtered or pasteurised because the beer makers believe it knocks some of the crispness and taste out of the beer.

After the draught ale, we moved up stairs and were seated. Matt gave a little rundown on how the lunches work - there were about 16 people at the lunch. Matt is really knowledgeable and is fairly active in the beer community (yes- there is one!). He has been a judge at the recent RNA Beer Competition, is working with Scales and Ales in Bulimba (who have Australia’s only selection of cellared Beers) and he really LOVES beer. After the initial welcoming, we were served our second beer, a  dark german beer Erdinger Dunkel (dark hefeweizen). Just so you know, hefe = yeast and weizen = wheat. After tasting this beer, I realised that my perception of dark beers was really wrong. 

The flavour was really full and a little overpowering, what really surprised me though, was Matt's decision to pair this with the most unlikely match- a very light dish of scallops with shallots and lemon juice. The skepticisim in me was renewed... Um Matt - are you sure you know what you are doing?!? Matt asked us to sip the beer before hand which was a little soy saucey tasting- (in a good way) for me and then again after we had tasted the scallop. What a weird sensation- after eating the scallop, the beer seemed so much smoother and more subtle. Who could imagine matching an equivalent wine with scallops and the result being the same? I also couldn't believe that the taste of the food, changed the taste of the drink. After eating the scallops, this beer could have been my fave.

Next up was a midstrength beer, Little Creatures Ale- Rogers. This beer had an almost caramelly, burnt taste and was matched with a lamb shank and garlic mash. 

Apparently, beer has the ability to cut through the fats in a food, revealing  a different taste. This definitely happened. Again, the beer tasted completely differently after eating the food. However, even after eating the lamb, this beer was still a little too much for me. I found the burnt taste to be almost bitter, but I'm thinking that maybe this beer really did taste quite beery and that was what turned me off- because there were quite a few people within the group who cited this Little Creatures Ale as their fave beer of the day.

Our second main course(yes, that's right- 2nd main course!- the amount of food was unbelievable) arrived at the table, some spicy Louisiana cajun chicken served with a sweet potato cake and green beans.

 This chicken was served with a Fat Yak pale ale  to cut through some of the serious spice. It really did the trick. I can now understand why C prefers to have been with his super hot, mouth burning Indian curries. The Fat Yak ale was also a little fruity and even a little bit herby, and really complimented the chicken well. That being said, I didn't mind this beer, but it was quite hoppy. I couldn't necessarily drink a lot of this- but I didn't mind the couple of sips I had. 

For our first dessert morsel, we were served a piece of a Dello Mano brownie (yummmm) with Chimay Grande Reserve (Belgian Dark Ale). So this beer was particularly strong- 9% in comparison of the usual 5.2ish%. It turns out that monks like their beer strong! Would you believe that since 1862 the Trappiste monks of the Chimay Abbey in have been brewing Chimay ale. How hilarious. This beer was way bitter. I didn't like it at all. I can tell why is was paired with the delicious Dello Mano, but my palate just couldn't come at it. Sorry little Monks, I know your recipe is hundreds of years old, but you are going to have to throw some sweetness in there to please this palate! 

By this stage, I was really quite happy with myself, because I have learnt to eat smaller portions and not finish everything on the place. Everyone else was really tiring in the food stakes, but I managed to sneak in a little choccy cake because I left some of the other courses 3/4 finished just so I could- Food Bloggers have to be forward thinking, you know! For our second dessert course we were served mud cake with vanilla bean ice cream (no ice cream for me peeps!) with two other beers to try interchangeably. A Renaissance Craftsman (Oatmeal chocolate stout) provided a very bitter cocoa hit whilst the Meantime London Porter (United Kingdom) was smoky and sort of caramelly, perhaps with a little tinge of sweetness.

I have to admit, at this point in the afternoon, I don't think I could handle any more beer. I only had about a quarter (or less) of each of the beers but whilst I was feeling a little overwhelmed the rest of the group polished off their beers with ease. We talked about favourite beers, and there was a real mix. 

The good beer lunch was a totally new experience for me, and one that I'm really glad I had. Matt really did dispel some myths for me, explaining that if beer is served really cold, it can quash the flavours, so some of the better brewed beers are taken off ice before serving so the drinker can experience the full flavour profile. Some of the beers we tried, weren't beers that you would buy a carton of, in fact one or maybe two would suffice. 

I also learnt that the difference between beers that are low carb and normal beers is seriously minimal- perhaps the equivalent value of a couple of rice crackers. Beer- surprisingly is lower in carbs than wine, coffee and even orange juice- so that is something to consider if you are drinking a low carb beer, just because it is low carb. 

Matt is doing a great job of being a beer coach, because there really are some serious misconceptions about beer in society. Just the other day, C was remarking how many new beers seem to be popping up on the market lately. He often comes home from the bottle o with a mystery beer to try, and the guy that works at the bottle o often pre empts C's questions - "I don't know, I haven't tried it- it's just beer." This, from a guy that works at a bottle o. But it does serve to prove a point. There are more and more boutique beers becoming available and the food and wine markets indicate that people are generally becoming more aware of what they are eating and drinking and hence, discovering they have a palate for more than the mainstream. I think beer is heading in this direction, but I'm not quite sure it is going to be there for a while. Sure, the big brand beers are probably ok for a Sunday session, but if you are after something more special, there are other options out there. 

So... am I now going to rock up to after work drinks this afternoon and order myself a pint? Not just yet. BUT.... I would be more willing to have a sip of C's beer with a meal, just to taste, and I am really interested in the beer and food matching thing, and how the flavours can compliment each other, so I guess you could say that this beer skeptic is now a little less skeptical!

P.S - Just so you know, I'm clearly not claiming to be an expert, ha! I'm probably less amateur than an amateur so I hope my beer observations weren't too crazy- but as Matt tried to assure me, there is no wrong answer!

Good Beer Lunches/Masterclasses etc range from $20 + 
The lunch I attended was $85 inclusive of everything.

Tell me readers, do you drink beer?

Good Beer Lunches

Gastronomy Gal attended the afternoon courtesy of Matt and Food Beer Lunches.

3 fabulous comments:

Ally said...

Ohh this sounds cool! You'd probably like most wheat/white beers - Feral White is my new favourite.

Go to Archive - SO GOOD. Brilliant selection of craft beers.

SOL's view said...

I've not been keen on beer, but the boys I work with love the stuff. I've either tasted or watched them drink most of the ones you've mentioned.

I found that Stone & Wood is very palatable, as is Little Creatures Pale Ale. My favourite though is Beez Neez, not too overpowering with a touch of honey.

I can't eat and drink beer at the same time - 1 glass of beer cuts my appetite so quickly! This lunch sounds wonderful and I'm surprised that the beer altered taste after the food. Who would have thought!

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

Like you, I've never had a full glass/bottle/can/pint of beer as I've never found one where i enjoy the taste. And hey, taste is everything right? But I have to agree that more and more "boutique" beers are popping up that have more emphasis on being paired with food, just as wine is, rather than being another alcoholic drink on its own.

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