Meat snacks: beer's ultimate companion?

By Natalie Hardwick

Introducing his tome, The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver says: “Real beer can do amazing things with food, and it goes places where wine cannot.” But the pioneer’s utopian dream of beer and food matching was never quite realized, and nearly ten years on people still treat the notion with a toe-dip at best and distain at its perceived wankery at worst. 

But not everyone. Merrily progressive craft beer kids are all about the food. Arcane practices such as sucking on pork scratchings while nursing a pint (credit where it’s due - a brilliant pastime) are shunned in favour of collaboration brews with chefs, table beer for dinnertime, wine-sized serving portions and complex flavour profiles. There’s no place for chuntering traditionalism here. 

However, London Craft Beer Festival is an event that celebrates food and beer. It’s also an event that takes a bit of coaxing into. Gone are the beer vouchers, strip-lit halls and CAMRA badges of traditional ale festivals. It’s in with the sultry urban warehouse, live music, youthful branding and unlimited tasters of beer. 

Alongside passionate producers, terrace-seating areas and throng of remarkably young drinkers of both genders, the food offering at LCBF deserves celebrating.  Star of the show is the gutsy Ginger Pig barbecue. Serving rare onglet steaks with panzanella (tomato and bread salad), salsa verde and rosemary salt chips, it provides a handy segue via which to return to the beer and food matching philosophy. 

One of its core tenets is the ‘complement versus contrast’ dichotomy. Complementing beer is to “cut through” (a term I heard a lot of at the festival) the flavour of the food melodiously, so in this case the salty salsa verde can be complemented with a sharp IPA, while the oily, charred flavour of the steak can be contrasted by citrus pale ale. 

If this is all a bit too complicated, Big Apple Hot Dogs were on hand to take things back to the most basic, foolproof and transcendently beautiful combinations: pork and beer. Now I’d never, ever sniff at a pork pie of any description, but ‘locally hand-made sausages’ does have a certain ring to it. Swilling your mouth out with Beavertown Gamma Ray after eating one of Big Apple’s juicy, subtly-spiced bangers is a feeling so good it had to be recorded, despite the sleazy subtext. 

Charcuterie and cheese from The Ham & Cheese Company provided a comparatively lighter option – herby salami, earthy sourdough E5-looking bread and French cheese were made to be enjoyed with a sour geuze or farmhouse saison. 

Chatting to the spirited representatives from the breweries, it’s clear that, to them, food and beer aren’t mutually exclusive. Johnny from Signature makes his own beef jerky using beer as a marinade, while those quizzed prefer battered calamari and Indian food as boozy snacks, with zero references to dry roasted peanuts within earshot. 

Meanwhile the lovely trio at Pressure Drop recently collaborated with Tim Anderson, he of MasterChef fame. Working to cook up a beer for his Asian restaurant Nanban, they created the sensational Kanpai IPA, brewed with yuzu, orange and grapefruit juices. Sadly Tim’s tonkotsu ramen and karaage weren’t available to pair with it, but maybe next time. 

On the other hand, some beers we tasted even tasted like food – Howling Hops’ fantastic farmhouse beer had a yogurty flavour, while Weird Beard’s ominously ebony ‘Black Perle’ coffee milk stout was practically a meal.  

In some ways the festival was representative of ‘peak beard’. The craft beer world may be about to smash through the glass ceiling and its no longer an obscure sub-group of enthusiasts - lampooning in the mainstream media is as much an achievement as a snub. If this unstoppable traction continues with food pegged on for the ride, we’re with it all the way. 

Follow Natalie on Twitter: @nardwick