16 October 2014

The beer tides are turning

For so many years we have been presented with wine lists in restaurants, offered wine flights to go with our tasting menus and suggested glasses of bubbly as “the very best way to start a meal, madam”. The only place you would find customers heartily chugging beer with a meal was your local Indian restaurant.

But now I’m pleased to see that beer’s stock seems to be on the rise.

As a food blogger, I spend a lot of my time eating, photographing and writing about food. I think it’s fair to say that food is a big part of my life. But so is beer. I grew up with parents in the real ale industry, and I don’t go a week without a pint or four.

For me, the greatest development I have seen is beer creeping its way on to some of the poshest menus in town. Finally, restaurateurs have cottoned on to the fact that beer can be just as diverse as wine when it comes to pairing with food. There’s a beer to suit everything from boeuf bourguignon to salmon ceviche. And finally, because of this era of enlightenment, you don’t have to feel embarrassed to order it.

I’ll admit that wine intimidates me. I know much less about it and to be frank, I just don’t like it as much as beer. If I’m in a group and the wine list comes around, I’m likely to be the last to offer to pick. But this is not just down to my lack of knowledge. The great thing about beer is that even if you don’t know an IPA from a Hefeweizen, whatever you choose, you’re only committing to a pint at most. And if you don’t like it, it’s probably only cost you about £4, even in the super-posh places.

Because of this change in respect for the brew, I no longer feel like a lager lout by asking for the beer menu (yes, some restaurants even have a separate menu for beer!) Hallelujah the world is coming to its senses.

Maybe we have modern gastronomy to thank. Chefs such as Ferran Adrià and René Redzepi were amongst the first to recognise the potential of brewing their own beers specifically to go with food. In Bristol we are lucky to be surrounded by a wealth of local brewers all producing a hugely exciting range of beers for local restaurants to choose from. Looking for a raspberry beer to go with your panna cotta? They’ll have it. A smoked porter for your cheeseboard? You’ll probably only have to go down the road.

Bristol Beer Week in turn celebrates this diversity by giving these brewers the chance to experiment with new ingredients and flavours to produce small batches of unique brews. And by giving the public a chance to really experience the diversity of beer. It’s a privilege to try them, and to see restaurants hosting beer pairing nights…well, it’s a sign of those changing tides.

So if I were you, next time you’re looking for something to complement your meal, I’d chuck out the Chardonnay and grab yourself a beer stein. You don’t want to get left behind.

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