If you were going to introduce someone to beer the last course you’d probably think of would be a dessert but as I discovered at a beer and pudding matching session at Brown’s Hotel in London this week it can be a surprisingly successful combination.
The problem is that when it works it’s sublime and when it doesn’t hit the spot it can be downright weird. Added to which not everyone agrees which the pairings work best . . . Here are my own impressions with the following ratings:
***** Sublime. An all-time-great pairing
**** Very good - the drink enhances the food and vice versa
*** A sound reliable match (generally)
** Fine but no fireworks
* A feasible match but one which may diminish the wine or the food
No stars A misfiring match
Lime and mango Eton Mess with Sol lager
You could see the thinking behind this pairing. You drink lime with Sol, lime goes with mango ergo Sol goes with mango but it didn’t quite work like that. For a start the Sol was served (oddly) in a red wine glass without its lime. And the Eton Mess - with alphonso mangoes I would guess was exceptionally rich and sweet. I asked to try it with the Sol served the traditional way in a bottle with a wedge of lime stuck in the neck and it was much better but you wouldn’t really want to serve it that way at home with a posh dessert, would you?
Steamed orange pudding with Blue Moonwheat beer
This by contrast was a surprise hit. Blue Moon is an American wheat beer brewed in the Belgian style with a big hit of orange which actually complemented the orange in the light, airy steamed orange pudding perfectly. Lovely
Poached pear in white wine and Grolsch Weizen
Again you could see where this pairing was coming from. The Grolsch which is more in the style of a German weiss bier has quite a strong banana-y note which was actually quite in tune with the delicate vanilla flavour of the poached pear but it was slightly too sweet for the beer. Also you wouldn’t serve a dessert unadorned like that and when we added cream the beer immediately tasted bittr. An odd one.
Spotted Dick with custard and Aventinus
It was worth attending the tasting just to experience this combination which everyone agreed was the best pairing. Why? Well this traditional English fruited pudding brought out a whole raft of spicy raisiny flavours in the beer which in turn gave an extra dimension to the dessert - almost like a sticky raisin sauce. Totally unexpected and totally brilliant!
Raspberry crème brulée with Innis & Gunn oak-aged beer, Bacchus Frambozen beer and Hix Oyster ale
These were the combinations that caused the most discussion and disagreement. Personally I thought the dessert too light and too sweet for both the richly malted Innis & Gunn and for the Oyster Ale, de-naturing them and making them taste excessively bitter but the majority preferred them to the Frambozen (raspberry beer which was also very sweet. I’ve tried berry-flavoured beers with creamy desserts before and they’ve worked (especially cheesecake) so I think it’s just a question of tweaking the level of sweetness in the dessert (panna cotta might have been better than crème brulée with its caramelised topping) and adding some fresh raspberries rather than cooked ones. (Innis & Gunn is a much better cheese beer IMO and porter a better match with chocolate.
Rating: Innis & Gunn and Hix Oyster Ale * Bacchus Frambozen ***
Ginger parkin and Worthington’s White Shield
Actually porter might have come into its own here too. Worthington’s White Shield, a very dry hoppy ale, certainly didn’t work for me. The very sweet dessert stripped it of all of its flavour. Again it would have been much, much happier - and hoppier - with cheese
Rating: no stars
Pannacotta with caramelised oranges with Goose Island IPA
If you taste it on its own, Goose Island is big, rich, sweet and generous. You wouldn’t have known it with this dessert. The orange really blew all those flavours away making it taste one-dimensional and bitter.
Rating: no stars
A fascinating tasting that hinted at a number of interesting possibilities. Yes, several pairings misfired but if other beers and desserts had been chosen (odd that there was no chocolate dessert and no barley wine, for instance and no desserts with a spicy element which I think would have helped the matches) I think the hit rate would have significantly increased. Certainly, on the basis of this tasting, beer is a better match for steamed English puddings than wine is.