Craft beer snobs and Hop Heads can either make or break a beer, especially with the use of modern media like Facebook. Earlier this year, in April to be exact, the team at James Boag’s Brewery released a new label simply called “Epicurean”, two beers that were created to match with food. I have to admit it was pretty hard not to have a go at them immediately as they seemed to have flooded my Facebook feed with ads, talking up how they have gone about matching beer with food, (almost as if no-one had ever thought of it before) calling one Red and one White, serving them up in a wine glass by a wine sommelier, bringing on board a celebrated chef to help out with flavour profiles….I mean really, its asking for it isn’t it.
If that was rolled out by someone you had just met there would be more than a few smirks and a muttering of words that rhyme with tanker……. most of the responses that I saw on Facebook were along those lines.
I went a different path, I thought I would hold my comments until I had at least actually tried one, waiting patiently until they finally appeared on the shelves of my local bottleshop, which they finally did in September, and truth be told, the beers probably don’t deserve the discredit they are receiving.
Creating beers to match with food isn’t new, personally I think beer is a better match with foods than wine, beers carry completely different flavour profiles than wines do. A wine doesn’t carry the caramel/toffee notes that an Old or Strong Ale can, a wine can’t carry those dark roasted notes that a porter will. And that’s where these Boag’s Epicurean beers fit, they aren’t going to be something that when I finish mowing the yard I’m going to sit down and have a couple of quite, reflective cold ones. These are beers that are best with food, and are best out of those large wine glasses, as the brewery suggest, to allow you to get you nose right in there with all those wonderful flavours.
We sat down to a large assortment of Asian dishes, trying the beers from the bottle, from the wine glass, and from pilsner glasses, trying them with food, without food, with chilli and with kimchi which often overpowers your tastebuds. The beers carry enough carbonation and acids to help clean the palate, and carry flavours that worked extremely well with the range of foods that we tried, the red particularly great with duck, the white with dumplings and sushi.
The biggest problem the Boag’s Epicurean range will face is the power of the snob, while its ok, almost expected to have a little knowledge about wine these days, if you show the same interest in what’s in your beer glass – or even have the audacity to ask for one – well you start to get labelled as that “tanker”. Having hop heads and beer snobs label these beers as sub-par, without even trying it, is frustrating. Beer lovers, enthusiasts and snobs should be promoting that we all get out there and taste and try new beers – even if it means that you try some you don’t like.
I’m not saying there aren’t beers out there that I don’t like, but I’ve given them a go, and on more than one occasion, because our tastes change, I hated brussel sprouts as a kid but enjoy them now.
We need to be fostering a desire for us all to want to learn about new ways that hops and yeast can combine, starting them on a journey away from the bland, clear glass bottled beers toward the deep end of the pool. Its entry or gateway beers like these that will start people on that journey.
James Boag’s Epicurean RED – more amber copper than red in the glass, sweet malt notes, carbonation is a little coarse but that makes it work so well with food than without. Light smoky malts, toffee and an earthy finish.
James Boag’s Epicurean WHITE – first things first it’s not a wheat beer like it sounds like it would be, it’s more of a Pilsner. Light sweet malt notes, a hint of lemony citrus notes, crisp finish. A little uninspiring by itself but steps up when tried with food.