25 August 2011

Dinner for two, with drinks

The 75cl bottle is, I think, one of our greatest allies in the campaign to get beer taken seriously (or at least frivolously) as an accompaniment to food. Wine goes with food because it's strong, robustly flavoured and a 75cl bottle allows two people to share flavours in common even if what's on their plates is different. The infinite flexibility of beer means that this niche is completely open to it as well. And though the Italians are playing a fast game of catch-up here, with the Dutch and Americans also making their presence felt, the accomplished masters at big bottles of strong complex beers are the Belgians.

Kasteel Cuvée du Chateau, the subject of this post, isn't even a particularly special example. A dark ale of 11% ABV it suffers a bit from the sherry-like heat I've met in Kasteel beer before. Beyond that you get some nice figgy fruit and a hint of wintery nutmeg spice. Nothing to blow your socks off by itself, but it did pretty well with some minty lamb burgers, though the grease probably could have done with a bit more fizz to cut through it. The beer really came into its own when I turned to the cheese, however. The big sweet boozy flavour matched fantastically well with the earthy funk in my bleu d'Auvergne, improving both beer and cheese in equal, substantial, measure.

The lesson here is that even medicore beer can be put to work in a foodie context, as long as the basic parameters are right. And if you want a really good strong dark Belgian ale, well there are plenty of them out there too.

9 comments:

  1. Interesting point about 750ml bottles: they do somehow feel more serious and special.

    Where a beer is available in both 330 and 750ml, Tim Webb and Joris Pattyn repeatedly recommend the larger bottles in their 100 Belgian Beers book because "the yeast does something special" in the bigger bottles. Sounds like bollocks to me, but I can certainly see how the presentation (corks, wire, wax, foil, etc.) might heighten expectation and enjoyment.

    Are there any UK or Irish breweries bottling this way? None spring to mind.

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  2. Some of the Irish breweries have from time to time released special batches in 750l swingtops. Porterhouse and Carlow both did a celebration stout (imperial) in that way.

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  3. U.S. breweries have marketed larger bottles as great for the table (looks like a wine bottle) and for sharing.

    Calling 22-ounce packages "dinner bottles" hasn't exactly gained traction, but it does sound better than "bomber" doesn't it?

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  4. Anonymous12:41 p.m.

    Hmmm... they usually mean I get to not have to pick out the next bottle as soon around here. Not too sure about the dining for two implications but they should age better due to the larger ratio of fluid to gas inside - or that is at least the theory with wine. It would be good to have some great aging brews formated in something even better for storage, 1500 ml or mini-kegs with frustratingly difficult opening processes you can't be bothered with.

    Alan
    AGBB

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  5. tania nexust1:13 p.m.

    I have a Belgian friend who has drunk beer with their family meals all their lives - she said that their usual family shopping as she was growing up would always consist of the larger bottles to go with food throughout the week, and that she had grown up to appreciate the subtle differences between say, a 330ml bottle of Westmalle Dubbel, and a 750ml bottle of the same beer, and this was something everyone in the family was aware of taste-wise - and I would expect from all accounts that they were following a typical Belgian family's drinking experience.

    Now when she gets shopping in for her elderly mother, they will discuss what beers they want to get in that week for food, for general sipping, and which versions (small bottle or large bottle) of each beer they want that week, based on flavours of each rather than just size of bottle.

    It would be great to have the time to 'get to know' both 330ml and 750ml versions of beers in comparison to each other - I guess if you grow up in Belgium you have a headstart on the rest of the world in that respect!

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  6. tania nexust1:15 p.m.

    Oh and if I wasn't making it clear in my above comment - what they were saying is that there are consistent differences between the 750ml and 330ml bottles of the same beer due to the bottle conditioning, for which they seemed to find size of bottle played some part.

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  7. Thanks for the comments, all. I think the bottle size must make a difference to the taste as the yeast will be distributed differently: less in the first pour than you'd get from a 33cl, but more in the later ones.

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  8. Great post. I offer a counter-argument on my blog in response:

    http://smallbeerblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/size-matters.html

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  9. Anonymous3:36 p.m.

    Meantime is another UK brewer which does 750's.

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