Neolithic Man had none of the mod cons. No television, no central heating, no microwaves. Not even Google Chrome Incognito – am I right guys?
No, Neolithic Man 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 big twubs. 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, impressing chicks by flicking a Zippo – 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 Londis, ‘bare’ grills…or something. You get the idea.
Anyway. This weekend is looking like a scorcher and as things get hotter, so too will our desire to rekindle our innate relationship with raw meat, deadly carcinogens and stilted over-the-fence 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, there’s a beer that will pair nicely. 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Saisons are Belgian farmhouse beers, originally made by farmers in southern Belgium to refresh itinerant agricultural workers (saisonnieres) toiling in the hot sun.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.
Given these absurd times in which we currently live, Silly Saison from the Silly Brewery in the Walloon town of Silly, situated in the centre of Saison country, is a superb place to start – slightly sour and spritzy with a crisp hop kick.
Dry, herbal and hoppy, Fantome’s Saison is another classic, wonderfully refreshing example that’s terrific with a Toulouse sausage while the fruity aromatics, tight bitterness and sprightly effervescence of 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, a sensational set-up in East Sussex. Fermented and aged in French Chardonnay barrels, it’s fresh and funky and full of rip fruit flavour – and will pair with any sausages containing apple or parsley.
If you can’t get hold of that, any of the saisons from Burning Sky are beautiful beers.
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 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. 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 brews a strong, strapping West Indies Porter with enough bitterness to be a match for a rich marinade while Brasserie de la Senne, one of Belgium’s most impressive ale-makers, do a super stout called Stouterik – which is low in alcohol but absolutely delicious, especially when chilled down a bit.
If you’re looking for a replacement for a rich Argentinian Malbec then try a Belgian Dubbel such as Affligem, Westmalle or Brouwerij ‘t IJ Natte Dubbel- which comes complete with a lovely long-legged bird 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, it’s the kind of beer that proper craft beer nerds say they really like – but probably don’t.
Seafood? Get you. King prawns brushed with garlic butter and sprinkled with coriander alongside an Abbey-style Tripel beer such as Karmeleit works amazingly well courtesy of their herbal notes and golden rum-like sweetness. Duvel Triple Hop, a Belgian classic dry-hopped with Citra, is also delicious here too.
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 Utopian Brewing – their Unfiltered Pilsner is a deftly brewed, delicate beer lagered for six weeks with a lovely nimble citrusy 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 Lagunitas Daytime Session IPA – the perfect all-round BBQ beer – just 4% ABv and 98 calories in each can but it’s packed full of Centennial and Citra hops laid down on a lovely malty backbone strengthend by the addition of oats. Gorgeous gear.
Wheat beers work well too – especially Belgian ones. Blanche de Namur 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 Erdinger Urweisse.
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.
Amber ales fit 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.