Defenders of beer, Brooklyn Brewery in New York have been playing the role of taste scientists ever since Brew Master Garret Oliver took the helm. We joined Andrew Gerson, chef and chief ghost creator and hear the fist crunching and barrel loading argument that you should toss your expensive gambles with beer’s fierce nemesis wine, to enter the prosperous sensory vision of table beer. After all, beer is for the people — or so I’ve been told by more than one Brooklyner.
“Whether it is flavour, aroma or mouth feel, or the level of carbonation, there are so many factors that play into a beer that is at your disposal. The idea is elevation, taking two individual things and creating something greater than the sum of their parts.”
My belly is fortunate enough; I spend 99% of my money on food or drink and have experienced the opportunity to pair a good wine with my meal. But I’ve never been given beer, at least I hadn’t until I visited Tom Seller’s, Restaurant Story. A course came out full of personal and unblemished attitude that and had me running through Sherwood Forest with a smoky ale and beef dripping in my hand and that was that.
Beer is made from four ingredients: water, barley, hops and yeast. It sounds simple, but that’s three more than wine so how can the pairing of food go with beer? I can think of the perfect place and time to have a specific beer, but I always think of beer as a big old pint. Beer me up and only my dad can keep drinking pints, and he never looks too thrilled after the third.
Andrew Gerson explains to us that beer quantity is probably where we are going wrong. “We’re now doing these big bottle beer/sharing plates concepts. We just did one at Smoking Goat in London. We served a ten-course meal with small plates and dishes coming out in a perceived order, putting down four or five big bottles on the table, letting people taste through them.
‘Beer is about community, whereas there is a level of elitism or inaccessibility when it comes to wine solely based on cost’
Perceptions are changing a lot; people have a more discerning palette and are looking for better ingredients. Beer’s place at the table has been realised.”
Heavy gastropub food is falling by the wayside, especially if you can taste something with a beer like what Andrew cooked last night. “I did a trout last night tossed in kimchi paste and homemade kimchi with a bunch of herbs paired with our Sorachi Ace beer, and it was fucking wonderful.” Leaning on Belgian, French and German beer culture, Andrew believes that he is moving us forward in our taste- pairing experiences.
Andrew has worked in kitchens for over twelve years, training as a chef at the French Culinary Institute and has a Masters in Gastronomic Sciences from Italy. He tells us, “My relationship to food, in general, is about supporting and showcasing local producers and ensuring we have a vibrant local food system and a global-local food system that works in harmony.”
He is fighting against the globalised industrial, agricultural system we live in and says, “It is about the best flavours, the quality ingredients and those come from small-scale farms, the artisan producers who are working with the best ingredients — whether heirloom seeds or heritage animals raised in humane ways. Happy animals taste better, and it is a chef’s job to work out how to best to honour and respect those ingredients.”
We then turn to how Andrew sees parallels with the brewing process; the mash, the boil, the extraction of flavours. He openly declares his love for wine; he lived in Italy, so that makes sense, but he tells us, “There are four pillars. One is food, one is spirits, one is wine, and one is beer.”
He believes beer happens to be the most versatile when it comes to pairing. “The myriad of flavour profiles that exist within beer allows for greater harmony, cutting or contrasting, so there’s the ability to enhance dishes in a way that other beverages can’t.”
“I’m not here to tell you only to drink beer, that would be ridiculous,” Andrew says, cutting short my worries this was going to be a sales pitch for beer and demolition speech against wine. Andrew has a sense of balance. He has a love of beer but doesn’t want to close the door against anything else — he wants to demolish the idea that beer’s flavourless and not worth considering as a pairing.
His biggest argument is, “Whether it is flavour, aroma or mouth feel, or the level of carbonation, there are so many factors that play into a beer that is at your disposal. The idea is elevation, taking two individual things and creating something greater than the sum of their parts.”
The terroir, sense of place and pride previously associated with wine is starting to be associated with beer, suggesting beer is at the forefront when it comes to beverages these days. (Except for the big companies’ ‘beer’ which qualifies to be called beer legally, considering the amount of malt and barley it contains and the fact they use the cheapest ingredients they can find).
Andrew says, “Beer is about community, whereas there is a level of elitism or inaccessibility when it comes to wine simply based on cost. Good wine tends to be more expensive, whereas a big bottle of beer offers the same amount of liquid for $7.50 and wine would be twenty bucks” Experiments with wine can cost you while with beer they won’t break the bank — it is the people’s beverage. I suggest that outside major, vibrant cities, beer is something many associates with men. Andrew says he gets a lot of responses from both men and women saying they don’t drink beer, then they taste one of the ghost or seasonal beers, and they fall in love with it.
Ghost beers. These are indeed not some see-through pioneering ales that have a friendly smile, though they will be hard to find. They are experimental and complex brews, produced in small amounts and never for sale. The beers are hand-labelled, mysterious, most probably barrel-aged concoctions only available at Brooklyn Beer events.
‘The myriad of flavour profiles that exist within beer allows for greater harmony’
“Beer is about community, whereas there’s a level of elitism or inaccessibility when it comes to wine simply based on cost. Good wine tends to be more expensive, whereas a big bottle of beer offers the same amount of liquid for $7.50 and a bottle of wine would be twenty bucks.”
Finally, we talked about language; it’s a peculiar tool in the beverage world. When you talk about wine you can be called a snob, but what about if you talk about beer in the same way as Andrew? “OK, I taste fruity notes. What’s fruity? Is it a stone fruit? Is it citrus? A berry? Is it fresh? Dried? You taste burnt cherry and all of a sudden that makes sense.” It makes me wonder when the tomfoolery of posh food talk will become the norm, and instead, people will talk like Andrew describing wine. “Cat’s piss. Yeah, I’m talking about Chardonnay. Barnyardy, animally, funky like a forest floor. These descriptors are sought after for beer and wine.”
Nigel Slater says in his in his kitchen diaries, “My rule of thumb — don’t eat too much of any one thing.” That translates across beverages too; think of beer as you would wine in taste and quantity. A man’s world is going to hell and beer is reaping the rewards.