Life after Lager
Coincidentally I have had invitations to two Indian dinners in two weeks - one accompanied by beer and one with wine which makes for some interesting comparisons.
The beer one was organised on behalf of Coors at the Bombay Brasserie in London. There were 4 courses of 2-3 different dishes, each accompanied by 3 different beers which gave us a real chance to contrast and compare.
1. The fish course
Grilled scallops marinated in honey and ginger juice served on a bed of burnt garlic and red pimento puree (a fairly mild sweet dish)
Crispy fried prawns tossed with mustard seeds, curry leaves and green chillies
Garlic flavoured batter-fried fish (like spicy fish and chips)
Grolsch Weizen 5.5%
A typical Bavarian style weisse beer with pronounced banana and clove flavours
Little Creatures Pale Ale 5.2%
A really rich, hoppy aromatic ale from Adelaide in Australia
Goose Island IPA 5.9%
Iconic American IPA - big and bursting with flavour
The easiest round of the meal. In my view the Grolsch, with its banana sweetness won out with the scallops and the shrimp while the more citrussy Little Creatures had the edge with the fish. The Goose Island IPA was slightly too powerful for these seafood dishes but came into its own with the next course.
2. ‘Dry’ curries
These were all dishes without sauce, a factor that proved significant (see conclusions below)
Mild chicken tikka (mild but fragrant)
Tandoori chicken (more chilli heat but still relatively mild)
Vegetarian tandoori (vegetables with yoghurt and spices grilled in the tandoor - quite spicy particularly one marinade which was used on the broccoli which tasted of lime pickle)
Zatec Pils 4.6%
A classic dry, hoppy pils from the Czech Republic
Timothy Taylor’s Landlord 4.1%
A quintessential English ale from Keighley in Yorkshire
Daleside’s Morocco Ale 5.5%
A really quirky individual beer, spiced with . . . what? Ginger and cloves I would guess. The recipe is a brewed to a secret recipe from Levens Hall in Westmoreland which was first developed more than 300 years ago. Almost like a seasonal winter or Christmas ale
The Daleside’s Morocco beer was the surprising star of this trio - I would have thought it was too dark and spicy but it picked up on the spicing in the marinades without either overwhelming the other. The Pils was predictably refreshing - there’s certainly a role for this sort of a beer on the table (see below) though it struggled a bit with the broccoli. The Timothy Taylor’s Landlord was just about OK but not in its element. I’ve had much better matches with it. I also tried the Goose Island IPA, which was not put up against these dishes and it was quite wonderful, even accentuating the individual spices.
3. Two ‘wet’ curries and a biryani
Lamb rogan josh (a classic, with a rich intensely flavoured masala)
Chicken Tikka Mahani (a moderately hot sauce with cream, butter and tomatoes)
Chicken Biryani (mild and fragrant)
Worthington White Shield IPA 5.6%
Multi-award winning British bottle conditioned ale with extraordinary ageing potential
The closest to the sort of lager you’d find in the average curry house
Palm Speciale 5.4%
A classic Belgian amber ale with almost winey overtones.
Top marks again to the IPA, particularly with the Rogan Josh where it actually made the sauce taste more complex. The subtle Palm Speciale was somewhat overwhelmed by the two wet curries but went well with the biryani and would probably have worked with the ‘dry’ dishes of the previous course. The Grolsch provided liquid refreshment, not much more.
4. The desserts
Baked yoghurt with black cherry (a slightly tart milk pudding)
Mango Kulfi (mango flavoured ice cream)
Timmermans Peach Lambic 4% ABV - a Belgian peach-flavoured fruit beer
Liefman’s Kriek - classic Belgian cherry beer
Jaipur IPA - cult IPA from the relatively young Thornbridge brewery in Derbyshire
Maybe we were palate-weary by this stage but only the Liefman’s Kriek really hit the spot with the baked yoghurt and cherry dessert - a classic pairing. There weren’t quite the right flavours on the plate for the peach lambic to hook on to and the Jaipur (a bold, if slightly rash inclusion) was just far too dry. Shame we didn’t get to try it with the curries.
- I’ve thought for a while that IPAs are the best all-round beer match for curry and this dinner confirmed it. Hops really hook on to and reveal hidden subtleties in the spicing. Both the Goose Island and Worthington White Shield were outstanding.
- While lager, particularly basic lager, offers nothing in the way of flavour it’s useful as a palate cleanser. Maybe one should think of having two beers on the table - an IPA for flavour and a lager as a refreshing chaser
- The most exciting discovery of the evening was the Moroccan Ale. You’d think a spicy beer with spicy food might be spice overload but it didn’t seem to work that way. Maybe seasonal winter ales would work too. Worth trying.
- Dry curries and preparations like tikka and tandoori are easier to match with beer than wet ones, particularly when they’re served as an individual course rather than one of several that are served simultaneously.
Next week I’ll report on my wine dinner and see how that compares.
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