As someone who only recently discovered the appeal of a cold beer in summer, I was incredibly excited to attend my first Beer and Food Pairing Masterclass at Neighbourhood in the East Village near Stratford. I grew up in France and so naturally had a penchant for wine.
For a long time I would automatically order a glass of white wine at the Pub. And I will admit that I succumbed to the typical stereotype, that beer is reserved for men and that it is unsightly for a woman to order a pint. I first changed my mind about beer when I moved to Germany back in 2010. In Germany, most people drink beer when they go out and my female colleagues soon convinced me to give it a go.
From then on, beer slowly grew on me and I started ordering more of it. I particularly enjoy a pint with a spicy curry. Who doesn’t? In contrast to me, Gary isn’t a huge fan of beer and always tends to order a cocktail or spirit. It is therefore somewhat infuriating when the well-meaning bartender pops the lemonade in front of me and the beer in front of my boyfriend. What can I say? Stereotypes change slowly.
Earlier this year I went on my very first Craft Beer Tour with Context Travel and had the opportunity to taste a large variety of London craft beers. This was my first experience in schooling my palette to become a little more discerning when it comes to beer. During the tour Catherine Le Blanc mentioned that beer and food pairing was a growing trend.
Which is why I was really excited to be invited along to the ‘Ladies Love Beer’ masterclass with Beer Sommelier Cheryl Cade, who looks after the Foreign and Bottled Beer Bar at Norwich Beer Festival.
The Ladies Love Beer Masterclass took place at Neighbourhood, located in the clinical East Village of Stratford. Complete with its own in-house brewery and a range of rotisserie meats, Neighbourhood was the perfect venue for the event.
The Ladies Love Beer Masterclass took place at Neighbourhood, located in the clinical East Village of Stratford. It was the perfect venue for the event!
MIXING IT UP – MEXICAN PINACOLADA & BEER COCKTAIL
We kicked of this beer tasting event in style, with a Mexican-style Pinacolada, made with beer instead of rum. This cocktail was probably one of the most refreshing drinks I have ever had. It was light and a little too easy to drink, with clear notes of coconut and pineapple. A cocktail made for the summer.
If Cheryl, however, hadn’t pointed out that this mixer was made with beer, I would never have known. Apparently mixing beer into cocktails is a normal custom in certain countries, such as Mexico and Cheryl soon encouraged us to experiment with our own.
THE BASICS OF BEER TASTING
Cheryl then explained the basics of beer tasting. It’s a three step procedure.
- First off look at the colour of the beer and its texture. Is it cloudy? Let your brain process the information. What does it tell you about the beer? What flavours are you expecting?
- Next, smell the beer. Put your hand other the pint and swirl the beer around the glass to get rid of the head. Take a couple of small sniffs. What does your nose tell you about the beer?
- Finally, taste the beer. Take a sip and let a linger on your tongue, then slowly run down your throat. Some beers punch way above their weight and taste horrible to start off with. So take another two sips. Now what do you think?
Never judge a beer by your first sip. You need to give the flavours some time to unfold. In fact, beer often tastes better on the third sip.
To help us discern the distinct aromas of each beer Cheryl popped a colour wheel on our table. I was surprised to find out that beer can come in a huge range of flavours, from spicy, to tropical, to caramalized.
PAIRING BEER WITH FOOD
Pairing wine with food is a well-known concept and I’d like to think that I know at least the basics of this skill.
Beer pairing, however, is a much more recent trend and certain wine sommeliers still frown upon it. I, for my part, was highly anticipating this part of the evening and wasn’t disappointed.
Beer interacts with food in various stimulating ways. It can complement the dish through similar taste. Or it can contrast and coax out new flavours from your food. Alternatively, beer can simply cut through the flavours and cleanse your palette.
And here’s a little fact that might surprise some of you: beer actually beats wine when it comes to food tasting events. NO really! While wine layers on additional flavours, the bubbles in carbonated beer actually help cleanse your palette.
To help us discern the distinct aromas of each beer Cheryl popped a colour wheel on our table. I was surprised to find out that beer can come in a huge range of flavours, from spicy, to tropical, to caramelized.
THE POPCORN TEST
Cheryl started our beer and food pairing masterclass off with a variety of popcorns and two beers: Krusovice, which Neighbourhood store in huge kegs above the bar area, and an unfiltered lager.
In terms of popcorn, we were offered three of Neighbourhood’s signature popcorns to experiment with: a maple flavoured popcorn, a bacon seasoned popcorn and a chilli popcorn.
Cheryl encouraged us to investigate different ways of pairing the beer with the three varieties of popcorn. First she asked us to savour one or two popcorn and then take a sip of the beer.
Next she told us to drink the beer whilst the popcorn was still in our mouth. This combined the flavours in a new and astonishing way.
Cheryl also explained that hop tends to accentuate the heat in food and that it is best to pair pale ale with your curry, rather than a hoppy lager. The unfiltered lager thus complimented the spicy popcorn, whilst the Krusovice combined beautifully with the bacon and maple popcorn.
The Krusovice itself was quite a revelation and one of the highlights of the night. To be honest, I was somewhat unimpressed by my first sip, but after three sips the aroma deepened and took on a smooth caramel flavour.
BEER AND A BIG PLATE OF MEAT
For our second round of beer and food pairing, Neighbourhood brought out a huge selection of chicken, lamb, and halloumi skewers, as well as two additional beers: Truman Zephyr, a British Pale Ale and Fat Yak, an Australian Pale Ale.
The English Pale Ale paired fabulously with the chicken and lamb skewers. Truman Zephyr is quite a bitter beer by itself. But this bitterness cut nicely through the fattiness of the lamb, whilst the sweet meat flavours softened the taste of the beer.
In contrast, Fat Yak, is far less bitter, and was the perfect partner for the halloumi skewers, enhancing their natural umami flavour.
Cheryl then explained that male hops are much fatter than female ones and that the only country that regularly uses male hops is Britain. There’s actually a law in Belgium that a male hop cannot be planted within 5 meters of a female one – how’s that for girl power in the hop world?!
BEER FOR DESSERT?
I don’t know about you, but personally, I have never contemplated drinking beer for dessert. Had I not attended the Ladies Love Beer Masterclass, I would have been none the wiser. But this evening I learned that I simply love the combination of chocolate and beer. Oh, how I have missed out all these years!
For our final beer tasting, Neighbourhood served up a trio of desserts – a chocolate brownie and strawberry sundae, a Plumb Eton Mess and a Kahlua Coffee. To compliment the dessert, we tried both Step Weiss Blonde, an unfiltered Weiss beer and Murphy’s Stout, a dark, banana-based stout.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well the beers accompanied the sweet dishes. The Eton Mess was a joy to eat, especially when coupled with the unfiltered Weiss. And the creaminess of the dish brought out the notes of banana in the Stout. The stout, in turn, enhanced the rich flavours of chocolate and nut in the brownie and the Kahlua Coffee.
But this time, we didn’t solely focus on flavour combinations. Cheryl purposefully drew our attention to the various textures on our palette. Beer combined with ice-cream creates a gentle fizz, not dissimilar to a coke float. I’m sure that everyone else was as delighted as me to hear, that Cheryl is planning to hold a beer and ice-cream masterclass in Norwich in the near future.
WHY LADIES LOVE BEER
Whilst our little group was deeply engrossed in the masterclass, the venue slowly filled up with football fans. France was pitched against Albania in the European League and the locals had come out to watch the game. As you might expect, the majority of these punters were men. Yet none of us felt particularly uncomfortable in this male dominated environment.
THE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN GODDESS OF BEER
And it turns out that women actually hold a strong place in the history of brewing, going back as far as 10,000BC, when mankind worshipped Tenenet, the ancient Egyptian Goddess of childbirth and beer.
SAINT HILDEGARD OF BINGEN
Thousands of years later, in the 12th century, it was still mainly women that brewed beer, commonly referred to as ‘brewsters’ – the female version of brewers. Saint Hildegard of Bingen, had a particularly important impact on the brewing industry. Indeed, she was the first to discover that including hops in the brewing process made beer last longer. Her work informed botanical and medicinal studies for decades to come.
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION AND THE SHARP DECLINE OF BREWSTERS
Men took over the brewing industry in the late 18th century during the industrialisation. Their large scale breweries slowly brought on the decline of the smaller scale home-brewsters. And as we all know, the brewing industry has been male dominated, ever since.
A MALE DOMINATED SECTOR?
There are currently over 800 breweries in the UK, and only 2% of brewers are female. This is despite the fact that beer is actually the most popular drink among women and that the first beer sommeliers were actually women.
You might also have noticed that the brewing industry’s marketing is mainly aimed at the male sector of the market, with “witty” puns and masculine branding.
Whilst women’s direct participation in the brewing industry may have declined, their contribution has lived on in common terminologies such as “bridal”, which stems from the “bride-ale” – the nuptial beer that was brewed and sold before a wedding, the proceeds going to the bride on her wedding day.
JOIN THE LADIES LOVE BEER REVOLUTION
The #LadiesLoveBeer community was founded to break the stereotype of beer being a dull tipple for grumpy old men.
And Cheryl was quick to point out that women often have a more discerning palette, than their male counterparts.
With diverse delights like fruit beers, chocolate stouts, vanilla pales, liquorice milds, soured and even champagne beers now available, it’s time that all women ditched their existing prejudices about beer or beer drinkers, embraced the craft beer revolution and joined a new generation of beer lovers.
I honestly enjoyed The Ladies Love Beer masterclass and can’t recommend it enough. Cheryl was hugely entertaining and I learned so much. I had no idea what an important role women played in the Brewing Industry. Cheryl completely blew my mind, with the depth of her knowledge and her passion. I’m sure we all left a little smarter and confident in our beer tasting abilities.
Many women are a little apprehensive about ordering beer. We often don’t know what to order and are worried that we will make a fool of ourselves by choosing the wrong beer. There really is no reason to be. Don’t be afraid, ask your bartender for advice and try something new. You never know, you might enjoy it.
I certainly enjoyed the selection of beers available at Neighbourhood East Village. There is not a single one I disliked.
On top of that the food was gobsmackingly delicious, especially that trio of desserts. I will definitely return to Neighbourhood East Village very soon, to grab a bite to eat and convince Gary to taste some of their beer. Despite being in an area which still feels a little empty at times, Neighbourhood has a great vibe and great selection of dishes on its menu. With big windows and trendy industrial style lighting, the space feels airy and modern without being unwelcoming. In fact it has real community feel.
Disclaimer: I was invited as a guest at the Ladies Love Beer Masterclass for the purpose of this review. But as always, all opinions and statements are entirely my own.