I’ve always fancied the idea of beer and food matching. Since the micro-brewing revolution, there are so many delicious and wonderful brews that I was convinced that whatever the food, you could find a complementary beer to go with it. I wittered on about this to my family but never got round to doing anything about it – no-one was surprised really as I have a long list of things that I talk about doing but haven’t yet done.
Then my daughters decided to take the matter into their own hands and they gave me a Christmas present of a beer and food matching evening at the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School. So we went along there earlier this week with no idea of what to expect. It turned out to be a great evening – lots of different beers to taste along with some very tasty food.
The compere (is that the right word) was Tom Bruce-Gardyne, a drinks writer, who started with a talk about the recent history of brewing in Scotland. He started with Scotland as a Tennant’s wilderness in the 60’s and 70’s (not strictly correct – Belhaven and Maclays kept the real ale tradition alive) then described the micro-brewing revolution which started in the 1990s and continues to this day. Then it was on to the food.
Our starter was a hot smoked salmon with salad. I forgot to note where this came from but it was really good and served with Innes and Gunn Original and Loch Fyne Avalanche Ale. Innes and Gunn is an interesting beer – aged in oak which was reputedly discovered by accident when casks were being prepared for a whisky company (the story is here). Innes and Gunn is a rich, vanilla flavoured beer whereas Avalanche is a lighter, more citrusy brew. We were invited to taste with and without the food – and I must admit that I was struck by how much the taste of the Innes and Gunn changed. I find it a wee bit sweet and rich but it went well with the smoked salmon.
The next course was my favourite – venison sausages from Findlays of Portobello (award winning butchers) cooked in beer with crushed tatties and leeks. We drank Caesar Augustus – an unusually named beer from Williams Brothers in Alloa and Loch Fyne Highlander, a traditional malty Scottish beer. I preferred the lighter Caesar Augustus – a so-called lager/IPA hybrid which cut through the richness of the sausages.
Then something a wee bit unusual – Asian spiced haggis (also from Findlays) with Fraoch Heather Ale and Stewarts Holyrood Ale. Holyrood won a world beer award in 2012 – it’s a classic Scottish IPA – a superb drink which I preferred to the historic Heather Ale (no hops, heather flowers provide the bitterness).
French style, we then had cheese – Strathdon Blue and Isle of Mull Cheddar with another Innes and Gunn beer – the Rum Finish this time and Stewart’s Embra ale. Both are full-bodied. malty amber beers and, as you would expect, the Innes and Gunn, finished in rum casks, had more complexity of flavour. But, it was too much for me – I preferred the simpler style with the cheese.
Finally, a rich chocolate cake to finish – served with Traquair Ale. The oldest micro-brewery in Scotland, established in 1965 by the Laird of Traquair in East Lothian, I first tasted this beer in the 1970s in the Howgate Inn – my pal Danny’s dad was the owner. It’s a rich, malty beer – very strong – and it went really well with the cake.
Overall, a great experience which showed the fantastic range of beers that you can now get in Scotland. I’m inspired to try a beer and food matching evening ourselves next time we have sufficiently adventurous visitors.