by Arvid Bergström Beer sommelier and author of publications including Proef Bier (Taste Beer)
What goes with an India Pale Ale?Food pairing with bitter beers
Bitter is perhaps the most dominant flavour in beer and is caused predominantly by hops. There are different varieties of hops which serve different purposes. The bitter hop is added at the start of the cooking process and gives the beer a bitter flavour. IPAs contain a lot of hops. Brewers can experiment endlessly to impart other hop flavours and aromas to the beer in addition to bitter.
Experiment with bitter flavours.
See if you can taste which flavours are present in the beer. Intense beers require intense food pairings. The bitterness of malt is more subtle and less sharp than that of hops. With IPAs, the bitterness almost always comes from the hops. Endless flavour combinations are possible, but it’s important to be aware of a few in particular. You’ll discover whether or not a combination works by tasting, and you can experiment with harmonising or contrasting flavours.
Bitterness tempers sweetness
Bitterness and sweetness temper one another. IPAs themselves are a good example of this - De Prael DIPA or Kompaan Handlanger seem less bitter than IPAs like the Green Bullet van Two Chefs Brewing. Yet double IPAs are in fact more bitter; the sweet flavours temper the bitter flavours. The bitterness of an IPA tempers the sweetness of the icing on a cupcake or the sugar on an apple turnover. Try it sometime with a double IPA and you might just be surprised.
Salt tempers bitterness
If you want to see what salt does to bitter beer, take a piece of boiled potato or meatball. Try it with a sip of IPA - De Molen Vuur & Vlam would work well here. Add a pinch of salt to the potato or meatball and try it again. Do you find that the beer loses some of its bitterness and you can taste other flavours, as well as your food, better?
American and English pairing
An American IPA, for example an Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA - an IPA with American hops - is slightly fruitier and more tropical than an English IPA such as the Bronckhorster Royal Rha. American hops combine well with fruit and dairy, or dishes which pair well with fruit. English hops are a bit more subtle and pair well with spicy dishes such as Indian curries.
Be aware that hop bitters have the tendency to reinforce the heat of spicy food, which you usually want to avoid. You can always experiment with extreme taste combinations by pairing spicy food with plenty of hop bitters, which ensures an intense spiciness. Great if that’s what you’re looking for! It’s incredibly enjoyable to experiment with flavour combinations - try a Thai soup with fresh chillies and an Emelisse Blond IPA for example. KABOOM!
And now for some food: tomato soup
Chop a leek, onion, and carrot and roughly dice a floury potato along with 750 grams of tomatoes. Finely chop one clove of garlic.
Heat butter in a pan. Add the onion, leek and carrot and fry until softened. Add tomato purée and stir for three minutes. Add the stock cubes, potato, tomatoes, garlic, 3 grams of thyme and 4 grams of parsley. Add around 750 ml of water, bring to the boil and simmer until the potato is tender. Take the pan off the heat, add about 50 ml of cream and blend with a stick blender. Add fresh basil to serve - it really gives the beer a lift. Make sure the soup isn’t too salty so you can add salt as needed. Salt tempers bitterness and brings other flavours to the fore.
This recipe is from my last book: Bier aan tafel (Beer at the Table). It’s got plenty more recipes with paired beers to discover.
Ingredients for soup:
- 1 onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 leek
- 1 carrot
- 30 grams tomato puree
- Cubes for 750 ml vegetable stock
- 1 large, floury potato
- 20 grams butter
- 750 grams ripe tomatoes
- 3 grams thyme
- 4 grams parsley
- Fresh basil
- 50 ml cream