beer + desserts pairing

for those of you who missed it, but might be interested anyway, here’s a low-fat sugar-free non-alcoholic version of our beer and desserts pairing extravaganza. it won’t fill you up in the same way that the real version did, but it might just inspire you to experiment at home. if you’re too lazy for that, but want a go anyway, please get in touch – we’re happy to re-create the event for small groups :)

beer and desserts – two of my favourite things in life, but two things i’d never really thought about trying to match…so it was possibly slightly foolish/overambitious to try and kick off our beer and cider focus week by concentrating on this. but i do like to make life difficult, and it sounded like it might be fun, so we figured what the heck. anyway, enough wittering, let’s get down to business.

course #1 – mixed berry pancakes with cointreau, paired with blue moon wheat beer

mmm, pancakes! for this course, blackberries and raspberries were cooked through with cointreau and lemon zest before being piled into hot beer-batter pancakes. (i’m not sure that replacing milk in the pancake batter with beer affected the flavour, but it seemed like a good idea at the time!) the hints of orange from the cointreau and the lemon zest make this an ideal match for blue moon wheat beer. an american take on the wheat beer style (by little known brewer coors…) this is a refreshing drink with subtle flavours (none of the strong banana-type flavours often associated with more traditional continental wheat beers, for example). as a drink on its own, an accompanying slice of orange helps bring out the flavours so with this dish, the tartness of the berries and citrussy flavours did the trick nicely. the pancakes provided a very necessary but not overpowering mopping up tool. the cream was a very necessary indulgence.

as an alternative to blue moon, you could also try goose island 312 urban wheat, another light flavoured wheat beer.

course #2 – sticky toffee pudding paired with phoenix firecracker

moving swiftly onwards to a classic british pudding (for any sticky toffee pudding tickers out there, this is the version with dates in). sweet, dense and, erm, sticky, to go with this we had phoenix brewery firecracker, a lovely toffee (see what i did there?) coloured 4.5% seasonal special. the beer was well conditioned with good malt flavours and just the vaguest hint of sweetness to it which matched very well with the pudding.

if you can’t get hold of phoenix firecracker, try pairing with another richly flavoured autumnal english beer; alternatively, goose island honkers ale might work quite nicely if you fancy something a bit more bitter.

course #3 – baked new york cheesecake with mort subite kriek

confession – having never made a cheesecake before, i was a little bit nervous about this course. i knew in theory what sort of effect i was after – creamy but citrussy flavours from the cheesecake and sweetness from the base to work with the tart cherry flavours in the beer – but it wasn’t until we actually sat down to try it that we’d know whether it had worked. luckily (and i think this was more down to luck than judgement!) it turned out exactly as hoped, and it turned out to be a perfect match for the beer.  the sweet and tangy flavours in the beer were echoed well with the cheesecake (lots of lemon juice and a sour cream topping over a light creamy centre and buttery digestive biscuit base) and although we were all starting to feel ever-so-slightly full by this point, there was another set of clean plates.

kriek boon/framboise boon or st louis kriek would probably work equally as well with this dish if you’re looking for a substitute.

course #4 – apple and raspberry crumble with mulled cider

another dish with some fairly tart flavours in it, this time we went for a mulled cider accompaniment. i realise this is cheating as it was supposed to be a beer and desserts pairing, so people were given a choice between the cider and a pale ale, but everyone decided to try the cider. we chose the mulled cider because of the spices (cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon + vanilla) which we figured would work well with the fruit and the crumble topping. the crumble did have some cider in it already, and having a different flavour cider enhanced this nicely. it did bring out the tartness of the fruit nicely, and we agreed that this would probably work equally as well with a cold cider or a pale ale. or pretty much anything really – i think this is just one of those puddings that would pair well with any drink!

course #5 – chocolate brownies with anchor porter

and finally..! this is the only pairing that i’d tried in advance, and it was definitely one to finish on. this is one where the flavours are matched perfectly – both the food and the beer are dark and roasted, and both make almost everyone say “mmm!” in a contented fashion. anchor porter is a fantastic example of this style of beer, and the slight carbonation in it lifted the denseness of the brownies so that it was just about possible to finish off this 5 course indulgence. it was a bit like rounding off a meal with a coffee and chocolates. sort of.

you could try an alternative bottled porter or stout to go with this – flying dog gonzo or brooklyn black chocolate stout have more complex flavours, but would probably work well. sierra nevada porter is another lovely beer that would probably make a good match.

so all in all, it was a successful evening, and proved that beers and sweet stuff can work very well together. there are basically 3 approaches that you can take when matching food and beer:

1) pick beer and food flavours that contrast, so that they will cut through each other

2) pick beer and food flavours that are the same, so that they complement each other

3) just pick your favourite food and favourite beer – chances are you’ll find something that works :)

any other suggestions are very welcome – we’ll probably organise a similar event for early next year, so if you have a favourite pairing you’d like to see featured, please let us know!

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