Beer and Indian Food: refined tastes

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Making the jump from amateur to professional status always causes a certain amount of soul-searching. An Olympic medallist asked to compete for a...

Making the jump from amateur to professional status always causes a certain amount of soul-searching. An Olympic medallist asked to compete for a cash prize instead of simply the glory of the event itself loses something glorious and noble in the process.

So it was only after some considerable angst that I accepted an offer to join a group of brewers, beer writers and assorted industry commentators at London's upmarket Bombay Brasserie to explore the art of matching of Indian food with beer.

I'm a veteran of a thousand impromptu curry-after-the-pub occasions, some of which ended in gastronomic delight, others in carnage and shame-faced regret, but almost all of which involved beer to some extent. Once I'd crossed the Rubicon into professional matching, would a simple night at the Curry Queen ever be the same again?

On the other hand, it was a night out with a few beers and decent nosh, so why beat myself up?

The event saw nine foods, prepared by Bombay Brasserie head chef Sriram Aylur and his team, matched against 12 beers chosen to represent a broad range of flavours, alcohol levels, textures and styles.

Over four courses, we were asked to note down comments on the appropriateness of the matches and thoughts on flavour. As someone who comes up with many of my best ideas in restaurants, but can very rarely decipher my notes the next day, I have nothing but admiration for the efforts of the team at R&R Teamwork and the Beer Academy, who were able to make enough sense of the comments submitted to work out that classic bottle-conditioned beer White Shield attracted most accolades for its versatility.

That is, of course, quite appropriate when you bear in mind that White Shield is an IPA, or India Pale Ale - a beer style originally developed to be shipped out to help delicate Brit palates cope with the highly spiced cuisine of the Subcontinent.

Other beers which proved a hit included the dry, alluring spiciness of the Czech Republic's Zatec Pilsner, which merged seamlessly with nearly every dish, while Belgium's Palm Speciale ale had an impassioned affair with the lamb rogan josh.

Kasteel Cru, the traditional bière blond from Alsace brewed with champagne yeast, was a suitable contrast to the spiced poppadum with chilli and coconut, while the fuller sweet flavours of Grolsch's Weizen wheat beer waded into the shrimp and fish curries.

Rupert Ponsonby, co-founder of the Beer Academy, said: "What this tasting hopefully shows is the potential for Britain's 8,500 curry restaurants to look seriously at developing beer lists to inspire their customers and to match with their cuisine."

Pubs may, of course, not share Rupert's view that Indian restaurants should start improving their beer offer - instead, perhaps there's an opportunity for pubs to raise their game when it comes to offering quality Indian food as well as a more interesting range of speciality beers.

Other beers matched with the menu included Timothy Taylor's Landlord ale from Yorkshire, Little Creatures Pale Ale from Australia, Daleside's darkly spiced and almost chewable Morocco Ale from Harrogate, Goose Island IPA from Chicago, Jaipur IPA from Derbyshire, Liefmans cherry beer and Timmermans peach lambic from Belgium, and Coors' Grolsch lager from Holland.

"Encouragingly, all of these beer styles had their supporters, but special highlights were Daleside's dark and sensuous Morocco Ale with tandoori chicken; the fresh citric zest of Little Creatures pale ale with lasooni fish; and the massively hopped India Pale Ale, Goose Island IPA from Chicago, with shrimps bezule," enthused Rupert.

Or, we could go for a Chinese…

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