Tastings School - The sweetest thing

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The sweetest thing

This issue, our panel of experts look at how you can partner fruit beer with food.

As long as you sidestep the sweet, sickly and synthetic (of which, alas, there are many), fullyfledged fruit beers have the flexibility and flavours to showboat throughout a meal.

Decanted into a Champagne flute, the Fou’ Foune from the legendary lambicproducing Cantillon brewery in Brussels makes for a delicately tart, apricot aperitif beer. It’s drier than a sawdust martini, slightly spicy, spritzy and superb with the classic canapé from the 1980s: Devils on Horseback. The richness of the prunes and bacon is balanced out by the strong acidic sourness.

For an opening dish, try some foie gras or terrine with the Grand Cru Raspberry Wheat beer from the Meantime Brewery, which sings both sweet and sour notes and doubles up as a substitute for a raspberry drizzle, jus or whatever daft term chefs are using for sauce these days.

Is coconut a fruit? Or is it a nut? I’m not sure but, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Mongozo Coconut beer qualifies as a fruit beer.

Not least because, at a barbecue, when served chilled alongside Jamaican Jerk or Thai spicedchicken its understated sweetness and dry finish works wonders.

It’s a well-known fact that fruit beers and fruit desserts don’t tend to make the most palatable of pairings. But if you’re faced with a cherry sorbet, seared pears or raspberries and cream take the corresponding fruit in beer form and mix it 50/50 with a decent stout or porter and serve. Chocolate porter with a Belgian kriek beer works especially well with the chocolate, espresso flavours grounding the fruit flavours and then wrapping them up at the end.

And finally, instead of an after-dinner coffee with petit fours, warm up some Liefmans Gluhkriek – Belgian beer’s answer to mulled wine. A sweet and sour maroon beer, brimming with rich cherry tang, mildly effervescent, a lovely fluffy foam head and a spicy after-kick of cinnamon and cloves.

Serve with a cheese board or some indulgent chocolates.

Garret Oliver Okay, so it’s bright red. And yes, yes, it does have a cap of pink foam. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not respectable.

For the uninitiated, fruit beers may seem like the clowns of the beer world, all bright face paint and fright wigs. But fruit beers actually have a long and venerable history, and it’s hard to doubt that they’ve long been favourites around the dinner table.

The tradition remains strongest in Belgium, where fruit is often added to sour beers, whether they be spontaneously fermented lambics or any of the sour styles native to Flanders. Here, raspberries and sour cherries are the most popular additions and each shows considerable talent with food. Drier krieks (cherries) and framboise (raspberries) can be great with salads, especially if the salads are dressed up with some fresh goat cheese. Goat cheese has its own fruit character and bright acidity that melds well with these beers, and the creaminess of the cheese provides a nice counterpoint. These beers are largely untroubled by vinaigrettes, a difficult stumbling block for many wines.

Dry kriek and framboise can also work nicely with many main courses. Duck dishes can be excellent with krieks in particular (think of the classic dish – duck with a sour cherry sauce), providing contrast to the richness of the meat and using acidity to cut through the fat. Dry framboise can also work here; a friend recently served me cassoulet accompanied by a framboise, and I quickly abandoned my skepticism. Other opportunities abound – try a dry kriek with a dish served with chocolate-based Mexican mole sauce, for example. Framboise is pleasant with roasted turkey (which is often served with a sweet-sour cranberry sauce on the side in the United States). Once you move to the dessert course, it’s time for the sweeter fruit beers to take over. That’s not to say that the dry ones won’t work, especially with not-too-sweet desserts such as flourless chocolate cake. But some sweetness does tend to help, even if many traditionalists find such beers lacking in authenticity. All the more for us. Sweeter krieks and framboise are obvious partners for chocolate desserts, but they are also great with cheesecake, ice cream, buttery pound cakes, and plenty of other dishes. Oddly, though, fruit beers rarely seem to work so well with fruit tarts or other fruit-based desserts.

The pairing ability of these beers lies mainly in the area of pleasant contrasts rather than harmonies. With fruit desserts, all the fruit tends to cancel rather than enhance the flavours involved.

The American brewer Dogfish Head makes a fine beer called Raisin d’Etre, made with plenty of raisins and a Belgian yeast strain – it’s terrific with roast pork. Other American brewers are now exploring everything from oranges to mangoes, and some wonderful – if improbable – beers have emerged. So next time you’re planning a fun dinner, keep your eyes open for fruit beers whether they be old-school or new school.

In either case, they’re not just for breakfast anymore.

Will Beckett Everyone loves matching fruit beers – in fact I think it’s actually a prerequisite to being a Michelin starred chef. It is big, and it is clever, and not many things can lay claim to that double-whammy.

Part of the fun is that pretty often you can match them to their own flavour. That doesn’t sound like rocket science, but it’s very difficult with wines: try matching a peach flavoured dessert wine to a peach dessert, and the wine is overpowered; with a lambic peach beer, the carbonation lets it hold the flavour. So an obvious start is to pair fruit beer with desserts – bakewell tart, chocolate and cherry roulade or, if you’re an aspiring Michelin chef and fancy cooking with the stuff, fruit beers are brilliant in jellies and sorbets.

But, predominantly because of my sloth-like attitude to effort in the kitchen as often as not I eat cheese with fruit beers. Semi-soft whiterinded cheeses like brie and camembert are incredible with berry-flavoured fruit beers such as kriek and frambozen, and they’ll also hold up to ultra creamy sweet cheeses like mascarpone. This is my number one favourite way of showing people that beer and food isn’t necessarily what they expect it to be (pint of bitter with a sausage roll).

Anyway, with cheese and desserts as my principal choice I’m going to neatly tie up with my number one fruit beer match – cheesecake.

Officially the best dessert in the whole world – go out, buy some (or make it, you know you can) and drink it with Morte Subite Kriek.