The modern beer snack is a thing of beauty, a gem on a plate. It is also an accomplished companion to the best beer that you can find. After all, food and beer is an accepted way of our drinking life now but we don’t always want a three-course meal with three different beers served in three different glasses. Sometimes it is good to go low and salty, which is where the modern beer snack is such a joy.
It wasn’t always so. When I first started drinking in pubs in the last century, peanuts, crisps and possibly a pickled egg that looked the colour of depression were the sole choices. Now, standout snacks include artisanal scotch eggs (not just made with pork), flavoured nuts and seeds and deep fried battered gherkins. The traditional pork scratching has also roared back into fashion, while that paragon of gloom, the pickled egg, has undergone a bit of a merry makeover.
This is all well and good and even though when a snack is considered, and the fancy beer dinner is left in the kitchen along with the gleaming eye of the beer sommelier, there is still a need to make sure that your beer and chosen snack aren’t going to have an undignified fight on the palate.
For starters, let’s look at the venerable pork scratching, which you might be surprised to learn comes in six different types of varying crunchiness. This includes single cooked scratching, which is crunchy and has a layer of fat beneath; then there is double cooked with its puffed up appearance and less fat (think meat popcorn). Finally how about leaf scratching, made from pressed fat with no rind on it? No? Me, neither.
The scratching is a snack whose home is the West Midlands, where the region’s signature beer for so long was a malty, sweet mild. Times and tastes change and I would prefer something with a bit of oomph on its palate to stand up to the salt and crunch of the scratching (let’s leave the leaf well behind). How about Bevog’s Kramah IPA, an Austrian West Coast-style IPA, which has a surge of tropical fruits on the palate followed by a dry finish that lingers long like the echo in the Gods of a concert hall after the performance has just finish. The pork scratching might have its soul in the West Midlands, but in the company of Kramah it becomes a citizen of the world.
Talking of IPAs, if there is a beer snack equivalent of this all-embracing beer style then it’s the Scotch egg. Once it was seen as a dreary little puffball of grey sausage meat and an egg seemingly with its roots in the Jurassic age, its modern makeover has made it glamorous as well as clamorous in the way it demands to be served with a beer. Crumbed pork sausage meat, surrounding a hard boiled egg (though soft boiled ones are increasingly common) is the classic surround, but there are also black pudding and pork and felafel examples. Whatever combination of meat (or not meat) the Scotch egg is made of, Buxton’s Gooseberry Sour IPA Trolltunga is a friendly and expressive companion with a ringing chime of tropical fruitiness, a tart and juicy combination at the start of the palate alongside a light and lithe sense of grapefruit providing a great contrast to the brawny, muscularity of the Scotch egg. In the interests of research, why not also compare Siren’s sour IPA Pompelmocello with your egg and look forward to more fireworks in the mouth.
In a pickle
Let’s finish off with a classic Netherlands beer snack: pickled herring. Some suggest that a classic Pils would go best, but let’s be a bit more asymmetrical and travel south to Wallonia where Dupont Saison is often seen as the most serene example of this style. Austere and spicy, with a resiny hop character on the nose, it is restrained in its sweetness, and has a champagne-like effervescence with a quick drying finish that also has spice in the background. For me this is perfect match with the salt and the sourness of pickled herring, the kind of match that is both simple and sensual.
With all this in mind, I think it’s time for a beer (and something to eat).