Beer & Food: There’s Nothing To Be Scared Of!
I recently commented on this exchange over on Pete Brown’s blog; it’s not often that I want to throw my laptop out of the window but this occasion came pretty close. It wasn’t just the tone of the comment by Brian, which was hostile in a way it needn’t have been – it was the fact that this comment was made in the first place which saddened me.
As it happens, I’ve pretty much had the same thing said to me on a couple of occasions, believe it or not. I generally don’t respond – just brushing it off and carrying on. Well, now’s time for me to put a few thoughts out there – why not?
Beer is an extension of Food. As is wine, sure, but I don’t give up an inordinate amount of time promoting, discussing, drinking and helping the Wine industry, so I will keep my blinkers on. I never – ever – want to hear ‘Beer is the new Wine’. Its patronising, belittling, and slightly condescending. Beer is Beer. Wine is Wine.
Right – that’s that out of the way. There’s a perfect circle which can be formed when you eat and drink well. If you live to eat, rather than eat to live, then you are essentially interested in experience, in taste, and in pleasure. This leads to, at some level, happiness (if you can quantify such a thing). Without adding Beer into that equation, you’re missing out on a part of that circle. Not only that, but you’re missing out on experience that can (shock, horror!) enhance the beer and the food in a reciprocal way.
The rise of interest in (not the same as sales, before people point out pub closures and such) Real Ale, Craft Beer, or whatever you want to call it, in the last ten years or so is, in my opinion, down to a couple of things. Firstly, I want to give Bloggers a pat on the back. When I started blogging in 2007, there were only a handful of us. Now, there are a handful of us in Leeds alone, and hundreds of great sites out there espousing beer, food, and all inbetween. CAMRA hold beer and food nights as parts of their AGM and help the cause by publishing the likes of Fiona and Will Becket’s An Appetite for Ale and featuring food in their Real Ale guides. Secondly, the rise of what I call ‘The Farmer’s Market crowd’ – conscientious people with a little disposable income that see the link between provenance, quality and taste. Drinking local beer piggybacks this explosion.
When you buy meat, fish, bread, cheese and vegetables from a trusted source (be that a farmer’s market, a local Butcher or Grocer, or online retailer), you’re putting your money where your mouth is, and making a lifestyle decision. You’re saying ‘ I want something real; and I want to help those who make it happen to keep on doing what they do’.
Supporting Brewing – whether it be a bottle from the supermarket or a pint at a pub – is pretty much the same. Our beer industry is ruled by the few, but contributed to by the hundreds. By making a choice at the bar to invest your money locally and/or independently, you’re doing the same thing. It’s a win-win, and that’s before you even start factoring in taste. The fact that the beer in your hand should (but not always, granted) taste pretty good is simply a bonus. A little Kinder Egg treat, if you will.
We’ve spoken at length about the barriers that stop people choosing Real Ale as their drink of choice, from availability to prehistoric branding turning you away. So why not take that down another barrier and let people make up their own minds; by suggesting a certain beer with a meal that they like. Dave likes food, but isn’t so sure about beer. Dave likes Chocolate Cake. Why not try a Chocolate Stout the next time he has a slice of brownie – just to see. After all; it’s sort of similar. Dave tries. Likes. Chooses (and this is the important part) a Stout on his next pub outing. Likes it. Tries another. Then moves onto another beer from the same brewer – a Pale Ale, this time. The rest is history. A Real Ale drinker is born.
As for it being ‘Poncey’ or ‘A New-Fangled, Americanised concept’ – get a grip. Tried a Ploughman’s in a pub? One of the most sublime beer and food experiences out there, and as old as the hills. ‘Pies and a Pint’ at a beer festival or Bonfire night? A packet of Salt and Vinegar crisps with your IPA? You get my point. Beer and Food is part of our heritage – and always has been. You don’t have to be sequestered in your kitchen, with a range of arcane bottles lined up, a plate of crackers and a notebook and pen.
This is the important thing. We may not all be wizards in the Kitchen. Fair point. But by educating people about another little corner of Beer, you can get more people on our side. True, it can be a very home-centric way to drink beer; but from those acorns spring new beer drinkers. With the help of Breweries, more and more pubs and restaurants are educating drinkers in food, and foodies about beer. By turn, supporting Local business, including Brewing. Is this not what we want? Less people do visit the pub these days, true, but that’s not to do with someone seeing what Mussels with WitBier taste like at home.
I know that the majority of brewers feel the same way. There’s no reason to suggest that people who enjoy beer and food don’t support pubs – Jesus, try to keep us out of pubs! Enjoy your beer. Enjoy your food. There’s no reason to fence them off from each other. If you are – well, that’s a real shame, because you’re missing out.