It’s okay to be a bit of a wine buff and know your way around a complicated wine menu. Some people find it a good characteristic to have. To know about food and wine is even better, with a perfect combination of bottle and pan of lovely hot food often bringing several smiles to any dinner table – at home or out and about. But I have noticed something recently – many people who’re experts on fermented grape juice and have no problem knocking up something fantastic in the kitchen often don’t have the faintest sense of a clue when it comes to beer. Alright, they say they like it and they drink it but how can you spend £50 on a meal and then enjoy it with a bottle or pint of watered-down, chemically-brewed Belgian or Australian beer made in Luton (not exactly famous for its culinary heritage)?
Why do people like Jamie Oliver (a disputed cooking genius) like having their photos taken with a bottle of something like Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch) or Cobra in their hands?
Sure, it’s okay to recommend the best wine on the menu to the man who just ordered the most expensive dish but why are you prepared to let him drink something awful if with it if he happens to be a beer man?
It’s not a lager thing – in Germany there are many thousands of lager and pilsner breweries that compete with each other to brew the best beers (although very alike). You can enjoy a lovely glass of bitter Jever with a fresh fish pan or a litre of Augustinian with a braised pork shoulder joint – the Germans know about this kind of thing and beer is often more popular than wine even in top restaurants.
In dark and damp North-Rhine Westphalia (at the moment anyway) the Altbier kitchen reigns supreme with the inhabitants of Dortmund, Düsseldorf and surrounding cities well aware that the winter dishes (hefty dark meats in even heftier sauces) fit just as well with a gorgeous half-litre of Alt or Dunkles just as well as they would with a native Spätburgunder or Dornfelder.
Although a small number of restaurants worldwide are now employing beer sommeliers, often even the best of restaurants only offer a small range of beers – in Germany a proper restaurant rarely offers more than three choices: Pils, Weizen or Alcohol free and the breweries often forbid the restaurants to sell anything that they don’t make – you’ll see their logos on the sign outside, the menu and probably on any table decoration too.
In defence of aforementioned Mr. Oliver, his fifteen restaurant offers a klein but fein range of locally made beers from the excellent meantime brewery in Greenwich.
London brewery Fuller’s offer a menu in its pubs that is designed to complement its beer choices and even chain-run organisations like Greene King and Wetherspoon include beer recommendations with some of the meals on their slimy food cards stuck to the table.
But these are pubs, already well known for their beer ranges (it is safe to say that British pubs offer the widest range of brewed drinks in the world) but not so well known for their food.
So think about it next time you’re eating out in a fancy establishment, you’ve just ordered something really special and then the waiter can only offer you Foster’s or Stella – complain and suggest a more comprehensive beer menu – the drinks are part of the experience as well. You wouldn’t make a steak sandwich with prized Aberdeen fillet and then finish it off with Tesco Value White Loaf would you? Don’t let restaurants try and hit you with an expensive wine list when they only offer a poor beer choice and don’t let wine buffs tell you what beers to drink. If you're not a wine person or you just fancy a beer - you should be able to have the same or similar choice as a wine drinker would have.