I’ll admit I have a hard time with the whole food matching thing. Most of the time I drink beer without food. I consider it my pud, my afters.
I am health conscious, maybe to a fault. This beer hobby is taxing on the body, let’s face it. But I’ve never seen eating healthy as a sacrifice– it doesn’t have to be. But you’d never get this by looking at foodie writing or even beer blogs.
Consulting other experts on food matching leads one to meat-and-cheese heavy ideas. Hot Knives, from California, are an exception to this, though often their recipe ingredients and beer choices are difficult to find in London. Reading their blog I’m reminded that I learned to cook and love beer in a place that’s culinarily alien to most Brits. My voyeuristic glimpse of the British Guild of Beer Writers annual dinner had me thinking Caligula would have blushed, or at least the courses could have featured as a chapter in the Decadent Cookbook.
In London the availability of beautiful, fresh produce rivals choice in Cali– and yet vegetables and grains are considered afterthoughts, peripheral to the “real” food which is flesh. In a time when we are all thinking green, and when cheap meat will cost plenty in terms of our environmental future (let’s not think of the smoking piles of mad cow by the fin de siècle motorway here in the UK or the recent H1N1 from the viral incubator of a US factory farm), it just makes sense to rethink the centrality of meat and its pairing with beer.
With that said, I need to learn to food match, and I need to do it yesterday.
The other day I made vegan sushi, pictured above. I had this idea that BrewDog’s Movember, with its mild manned yet hoppy character would be perfect. Big mistake. The soapy nose really wrastled with the ginger in a most unpleasant way. Everards Sly Fox would have worked well, but it’s not something I can nip round the corner to get. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Crouch Vale’s Wild Hop, which I had in during a lovely day out in Cambridge with Jesus John and Claire. It was a beautiful beer, made with hops gleaned from hedgrows, with a mild, chamomile character, and it would have gone perfectly well with the sushi.
Though, this year, I have one beer matching success. In Aztlan, or the part of Cali I consider home, it’s traditional to have a tamalada or tamale-making party at Christmas. It’s something I never did when I lived there, as it was easy to get tamales around my neighborhood. I never knew how to cook them until homesickness dictated I learn. In past years I’ve smuggled masa and corn shucks home in my suitcase. One year I mail ordered the ingredients from a gourmet shop and nearly went broke. This year my friend Alice found a Mexican importer near Columbia Flower Market where we found all the ingredients necessary, with still enough money to buy beer. If we count the food miles here I might as well be chopping down a rain forest, Paul Bunyan style.
Tamale making is a two-day process. I was complaining to my friend El Chavo that it felt lonely to do it solo, and he said that it could be a time for quiet contemplation. This year I perfected my recipe and I shared the finished tamales with more London friends than ever before. I served them with BrewDog’s Trashy Blonde and it was gorgeous, the sweet fruity character balancing well with the smoky-earthy corn cakes. (I also made some hibiscus and lime infused wassail for full-on cultural hybridity, and that went over well.)
I’d like to think that this is a new London tradition in the making, and that next year I will have friends join me in the tamalada and we can find the perfect beer to drink while making them (an intense Christmas ale!)
So, what are you doing this time next year, mis tamaleros-in-arms?