Everyone knows that beer at barbecues matter so don’t just grab a can of cooking lager, say Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham. As featured on Telegraph Men
Neolithic Man had none of the mod cons. No television, no central heating, no microwaves. Not even Google Chrome Incognito.
He only had fire. Man gazed at fire, he warmed himself with fire and, having run after them like a salivating Benny Hill, and killed them with a spear or some-such, he also cooked animals using fire.
In fact, it’s fair to say that, without fire, man would have been in a whole lot of trouble. And he would have been very bored. That’s why man inherently loves fire. These days, man still loves fire but, sadly, doesn’t see it as much fire as he’d like to. Old school fire only makes fleeting, cameo appearances – romantic candles, Olympic torches, hippy jugglers – that kind of thing.
But man’s inherent love of fire burns bright. This is why man loves to BBQ. Deep down, man is a natural born griller. He’s a grill sergeant. He’s born with a license to grill. He’s got the grill skills to pay the bills, he’s got the grilling abilities to pay the household utilities; he is, to use the modern parlance of those troublesome youths who repeatedly jostle us outside our local NISA, ‘bare’ grills…or something. You get the idea.
Anyway. If you’re as avid a reader of the Daily Express as we are then you will have no doubt heard the news; the temperature is likely to rise over the summer months. Remarkable. And all for only ten pence.
As things get hotter, so too will our desire to rekindle our innate relationship with raw meat, deadly carcinogens and stilted conversations about the latest coupé with the next door neighbour. It’s time to make fire, it’s time to eat beasts, it’s time to don the ‘comedy’ apron and let the magic begin.
Regardless of the flesh flung on the flames, it’ll find a far more flexible friend in beer than it will in wine. Hops adorn beer with the bitterness to scythe through meat and provide a firm foil to BBQ’s big flavours; beer’s got the carbonation to lift rich textures from the palate; and anything chargrilled will chime beautifully with the charred character bestowed in some beers by darker malts.
Four cans of cooking lager simply won’t cut it though. Different styles suit different dishes and you’ve got to box clever with your beers, matching intensity with intensity and making sure that whatever comes off the glowing coals doesn’t overpower the beer – or vice versa.
Saisons are Belgian farmhouse beers, originally made by farmers in southern Belgium to refresh itinerant agricultural workers (saisonnieres) toiling in the hot sun. Often brewed with herbs and spices, they were deliberately designed to slake thirsts – and they’re really rather good at it.
They suit a posh sausage too. As complex characters, flowing with flavour, spiciness, herbal highs and, often, no small amount of yeasty funk, Saisons pair perfectly with pork pimped-up with everything from apple and apricots to pepper, sage, onion, apricot, chilli, thyme, ginger and parsley.
The boys from Brew By Numbers in Bermondsey, South London, have created a series of saisons using an array of different hop varieties and all manner of esoteric herbs, flowers, herbs and spices including ‘saphir and lemon’, ‘cucumber and juniper’, ‘grapefruit and ginger’ and ‘amarillo and orange’.
Dry, herbal and hoppy, Fantome’s Saison is a classic, wonderfully refreshing example that’s terrific with a Toulouse sausage while the fruity aromatics, tight bitterness and sprightly effervescence of Boulevard Tank 7 from Kansas City can cope with anything a curly Cumberland can throw at it.
For something seriously special, try and get your hands on the superb Saison Anniversaire from the Burning Sky Brewery, fermented and aged in French Chardonnay barrels. Slightly sour with some funk and fruit flavours, pair with any sausages containing apple or parsley.
There’s quite a lot to consider when choosing a beer to go with a burger. It’s neither the beef nor the bun that’s the concern, it’s the array of exploratory accoutrements and toppings raging from sweet gherkins and cheese slices (a guilty pleasure) to jalapenos, coleslaw and relish that you need to think about.
To cater for all these eventualities, an all-rounder is required. Something with bright fruit aromatics, a touch of sweetness and a rapier of bitterness to carve through the grease. The Jack Brand Mosaic Pale Ale, from Adnams in Suffolk, boasts all three while Roosters Yankee, brewed in Yorkshire and kept in a cool looking can, showcases the grapefruity Cascade hop perfectly.
For buffalo or venison burgers, you’ll need something with a bit more hop oomph– but try and steer clear of the absurd IPAs that taste like a bowl of pot pourri. De Ranke is a progressive Belgium brewer whose XX Bitter hails the “Brewers Gold” hop without stripping the enamel from your teeth while Siren Craft Brew’s Soundwave, a ‘West Coast IPA’ brewed in Berkshire, will scrub the palate clean with its resinous, dry finish.
Be they butter-soft or with a bit of a chew, steaks don’t suffer delicate drops gladly. Porters and stouts (essentially the same style) has the dry roast character to dovetail with the charred flavours given off by the grill.
Guinness has brought out a strong, strapping West Indies Porter with enough bitterness to be a match for a rich marinade while Meantime Brewing’s London Porter keeps things classic with slightly sour coffee notes and a dry, peppery finish.
If you’re looking for a replacement for a rich Argentinian Malbec then try an opulent Belgian Dubbel such as Affligem, Westmalle or St Bernadus Prior – which comes complete with a cheeky looking monk on the label.
The big burgundies of the beer world, meanwhile, are Flemish Reds – the most famous of which is Rodenbach Grand Cru. As well as raising steaks to another level, Rodenbach works remarkably well with sticky ribs.
Get the basting right, the sauce all gooey and the spices on song and ribs are also a revelation with sweet, smoky rauchbiers – a German beer style brewed using malts kilned over beechwood.
The most infamous and intense example is Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen from Bamberg – a mixture of seaweed, iodine, sawdust, bacon and the smoky smoothness of a leather-trousered lothario playing acoustic guitar around a campfire. Not for the feint hearted.
Seafood? Get you. King prawns brushed with garlic butter and sprinkled with coriander alongside an Abbey-style Tripel beer such as Karmeleit or St Feuillen works amazingly well courtesy of their herbal notes and golden rum-like sweetness.
An elegant lager, but one with a snappy hop presence, is just the hook you want for grilled fish as it won’t trample all over the delicate flavours. Veltins is a lovely lager put together with all the Teutonic efficiency you’d expect from a brewery whose crates are designed by Porsche – it’s crisp, clean and perfectly carbonated without being wishy-washy like other pale imitations of the Pilsner style. One of the few British breweries with the patience to brew lager properly is Thornbridge Brewing whose Bayern is a deftly brewed, delicate beer with a lovely nimble bitterness – perfect with a gently grilled salmon, salad and a squirt of lemon.
Chicken. A blank canvas on which other flavours, spices and sauces are brushed. For the definitive BBQ drumstick, reach for a no-nonsense, quaffable British summer ale such as Whitstable Bay from Shepherd Neame or Shropshire Gold from Salopian, a superb brewery from Shrewsbury.
Wheat beers work well too – especially Belgian ones. Troublette is lovely with chicken in a light lemon and coriander marinade while Jamaican jerk chicken, rubbed with a range of spicy seasoning, requires a bigger Bavarian weissbier such as Schneider Weiss.
Wine often bleats when asked to deal with the mouth-coating fattiness of lamb but beer is all over it like a big woolly cardigan. Fat-fighting carbonation and bitterness is what you need – with a bit of sweet barley backbone to counter the char. Red Ale, very popular at the moment, fits the bill and a couple of examples more than capable of coping with lamb are Meantime’s Yakima Red, brewed with five different types of American hops, and Cwtch (a Welsh word meaning cuddle), a fantastically fruity beer with a pine-like finish from the Tiny Rebel brewery in Newport, Wales – no sheep reference intended.