Beer and food pairing soirées are becoming increasingly popular in London, demonstrating the versatility of beer and its ability to not just complement, but elevate, a dish. More craft breweries are adding curated food and beer evenings to their events calendar, usually collaborating with a renowned chef or an established restaurant.
Every style of beer boasts unique characteristics based on its recipe. Malts can be pale, roasted, or blended to create a fuller mouthfeel; yeast can impart notes of banana, spices and bubble gum (as seen in Belgian styles), or can be completely neutral. The hops play a crucial role in lending bitterness and aroma, which can range from the bursting tropical notes in antipodean hops to big hits of grapefruit and resinous pine present in US varieties. Some styles can be brewed without treating water – alkaline levels should be monitored for clean, pale styles, but untreated water can be used in richer dark beers, such as stouts and porters.
Each ingredient used in brewing therefore plays an integral role to taste, aromas and appearance. So it’s not surprising that chefs are recognising the pairing potential of beer and dishes to showcase the former's unique properties. It presents a whole new challenge to enlighten and surprise diners.
The coupling of beer and food can work very well, but there’s an element of execution that must be adhered to: mostly a well-trained palate to pair options with each course – even the vegetarian options, as what works with a beef tartare will likely not come together well with garlic mushrooms – and the timing is crucial. Thought must be given to serving temperature, as some of the beer's flavours mature or mellow out as it warms up. If pouring straight from the tap, the beer might need to sit for a few moments before all of its qualities fully develop.
Interestingly, pubs are now not just offering beer matching with their food, but are now creating menus entirely inspired by the beer. This is the approach taken at The Eagle in Ladbroke Grove, who reached out to East London’s Truman’s Brewery to produce RAW Lager, a kolsch-style beer served from a tank, transferred directly from the brewery. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, the beer arrives to the pub within two hours of leaving Hackney Wick, where it's served fresh to customers. It's comparable to drinking straight from the brewery’s fermenter tanks. The lager is clean as a pin and intensely drinkable, unadulterated by exposure to light or added gas, lacking any metallic bitterness that you often find in generic lagers.
This tank beer concept is not new to the UK. Drinkers have been enjoying drinking Pilsner Urquell straight from large copper tanks at Draft Houses around the city since 2014. Even Meantime Brewery have a Brewery Fresh London Lager, where punters can enjoy beer that's been dispensed directly into tanks in selected venues. But Truman's claim that unlike these big breweries, they can categorically guarantee that all of their tank beer is being brewed in London and believe to be the first London brewery to offer this in pubs.
The Eagle was recently acquired and renovated by Hippo Inns and has only been open to the public for a few weeks. Appropriately, the pub was historically a Truman’s pub – back when the original brewery was in operation (it was sold off in 1989). It’s modern and spacious, with an impressive event space upstairs. It’s been readily embraced by locals and the RAW lager has proved popular: there's been some nail biting moments when only a few pints were left in the tank and shipments were en route. The beers are predominately from Truman’s range on keg and cask, but there are two rotating lines reserved for other craft breweries.
Their menu is Bavarian inspired – another push by the pub to do something a little quirky – and their head chef is Stan Perry, formerly of Soho House, who has designed a menu around Truman’s beers. Meats are basted in Truman’s, their bitter is incorporated into a bone marrow pie and ale is used in the batter for fish and chips. Each of the ingredients have also been specially selected to complement the flavour profiles of a particular beer.
The Zephyr, a hoppy pale ale served in cask, was paired with fattier foods, such as the crispy knuckle of pork. The Gypsy Queen, a seasonal oatmeal pale on cask, favoured the dressed Dorset crab with saffron aioli. It worked well with fish across the board, including the zesty pickled herring to start, while the Zephyr sang with the richer pork terrine and Gruyere soufflé.
The RAW Lager was the perfect palate cleanser, clean and subtle, which also cut through the heartier dishes, including smoked mozzarella macaroni and cheese, chicken schnitzel and a duck’s egg. The food is superb and the Bavarian twist means that the dishes have the bready, rich qualities that favour a clean-drinking pint.
The deserts were equally as delicious, including a decadent banoffee pancake and chocolate fondant. Both paired well with Truman's Runner, a Best Bitter with nuances of roasted malts and caramel: it matched the chewy toffee notes in the former and the intense richness of the latter. A velvety stout might have also done the trick – especially with the fondant.
Food and beer pairing is a great concept and introduction to presenting beer as a complex drink that merits further appreciation in the culinary world. These events tend to attract foodies and beer drinkers alike, but The Eagle have painstakingly ensured that their menu - and the quality of their offerings - match the calibre of the beer. By taking inspiration from beer's nuanced characteristics, this is just another step towards making it a more accessible and versatile drink for all.
This partnership between Truman's and The Eagle impresses on both the beer and the food front. Hopefully we will see RAW Lager available fresh from more local East London outlets soon, however, because if a full three course lavish meal isn't your thing, a pint of beautifully fresh lager can never be topped.
I was invited to The Eagle to sample the menu and beer by Truman's, but this is no way has influenced my enthusiasm for food and beer pairing.