Book review: The Beer and Food Companion

The Beer and Food Companion, by Stephen Beaumont, is an informative, illustrated hardback book. For newcomers it provides an accessible introduction to brewing, world beers plus the pairing of food and beer. For ale aficionados it provides food for thought and a number of recipes to try at home.

The thick pages, multiplicity of pictures and timeless information make this book an ideal gift for people who love beer and those who want to know more about it. Beaumont writes with authority about brewing and beers. The publication of The Beer and Food Companion also looks well-timed for capturing the burgeoning enthusiasm for pairing food with craft ales, lagers and other styles of beer.

For years beer has been regarded by many gourmets as a poor man’s alternative to wine. As the author suggests in his introduction to the book, this may well be because of France’s predominant position in gastronomy since the 18th century. “Beer is back,” he asserts, suggesting craft beer and the rise of the gastropub and quality pub dining is helping the multifaceted nature of beer to become cherished as an accompaniment to good food.

Written by Stephen Beaumont

The author of this book, Stephen Beaumont, established himself as a leading writer on pairing food and beer with the publication of A Taste for Beer in 1995.

Beaumont co-authored The World Atlas of Beer with Tim Webb. The volume was published in 2012 and became a best seller.

Beer and its many styles

The chapter entitled The Essence of Beer provides an overview of what beer is and how it is made. It’s informative and as easily digestible as a German pale lager. The sub-sections – on topics such as yeast, barley malt and hops – are broken up by emboldened, capitalised pull-outs and illustrating photos with captions.

The chapter that follows, Beer Styles, makes a bold attempt to provide an overview of the multiplicity and expanding range of beers on sale around the world today. As Beaumont points out, the number of styles has grown markedly since Michael Jackson listed 24 in his ground-breaking work of 1977, The World Guide to Beer.

After listing a style of beer, for example ‘dryly bitter lagers’, Beaumont describes its chief characteristic (e.g. ‘crisp’). He then provides a brief overview putting the style into context before listing types of beer within the style. Pilsner falls within Beaumont’s classification of a dryly bitter lager then specific examples, with photos, are provided.

It is, you might agree, as refreshing as a glass of cold Jever on a warm summer day, and gives readers ideas on brands and bottles to look for in order expand their knowledge in tastings.

A beer from Alexander Keith's brewery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
A beer from Alexander Keith’s brewery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Pairing food and beer

The chapter Where it All Began examines the history of pairing beer and food around the world. Beaumont takes us on a global tour inside Bavarian beer halls and American bars, looking at how beers complement cuisines.

The following section, Beer and Food Pairing, looks at the current state of play in the relationship between the two. It includes insights from leading proponents of marrying the two, from the joint owner of a Swedish beer cellar, Stene Isacsson, to Michelin-starred chef, Sriram Aylur, of Quilon restaurant in London.

Cooking with beer

Marinading, steaming and stewing are just three of the ways beer can be used in cooking. The mouth-watering chapter entitled Cooking with Beer suggests we should open our minds to using beer in the kitchen.

A number of recipes featuring beers are then listed, ranging from soup to the enticing suggestion of pork ribs with beer and chocolate. As you’d expect, Beaumont pairs the food with a recommended beer (Aventinus is the one to go for when you try the ribs).

Easy to reference pairing charts feature towards the back of the book, providing suggestions as to what food goes with which style of beer.

The final chapter, 100 Great Beer and Food Destinations, lists a selection of pubs and restaurants around the world. This chapter reads like a lightweight or arbitrary afterthought to an otherwise well-written, well-researched book. It could do with being expanded in future editions of The Beer and Food Companion. It lists nothing between Leeds and Edinburgh, only seven places in the whole of Belgium and just four in the Netherlands.

All told, The Beer and Food Companion is enjoyable to read, well-designed and a book I’ll dip back into in the future for ideas on what food to serve with beers from around the world.

Further information

The Beer and Food Companion, by Stephen Beaumont, has a recommended retail price of £25 (US$35). The book is printed by Jacqui Small Publishing.

The book is available via Amazon (£):

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