I am a big beer drinker. I love it as much as I do wine and increasingly, I love it more. Nothing can beat the refreshment of an ice cold burst of hops and bubbles. When I was tempted by the offer of this food and beer matching hamper from the people at Innis and Gunn, I put the feelers out a little and asked my beer blogging pal for his opinion on I & G (I’m not familiar with their beers and tend to stick to what I know – Brew Dog) and he directed me to this post where opinions are pretty much divided. It seems many beer aficionados feel they have ‘moved on’ from I & G but some still enjoy it as much as ever. I had to try it.
I must admit, my little face lit up when I received the hamper. Arbroath smokies, smoked salmon, smoked venison; a delicious looking, if rather smoky, range of foods. We laid the whole lot out in one big spread (complete with tartan tablecloth) and got right down to business.
Our first match was the I & G ‘Blonde’ with Inverawe organic smoked salmon: skilfully smoked fish which surprised us with its cheeky waves of smoke, then salmon, then smoke and oaky depth. A slosh of Blonde in the mix made our tastebuds happy with notes of caramel and vanilla winding down to a slight bitterness to foil the rich, meaty fish. Overall I enjoyed this uncomplicated match, although I probably wouldn’t drink the beer on its own as I prefer a bit more of a challenge and punch to my tipple; this was a little too mainstream for my taste.
The ‘Rum Cask’ was paired with cold smoked venison from Rannoch Smokery: wintry, dark and surprisingly sweet with an irony, gamey tang and a texture like the missing link between raw meat and jerky. Together with a slurp of fruit, spice and rum scented beer it combined into something luxurious and festive. My favourite match by a deer-roamed country mile.
After three successful combinations (some hot, buttered Arbroath smokies were also devoured in minutes), we moved on to the cheese. The first to step up, a Strathdon Blue from Ruaraidh Stone, Ross Shire, was very mellow and creamy; easy-going, not particularly sharp or salty but pleasantly earthy and subtle. This was matched with an IPA, which unfortunately didn’t stand up to the challenge very well. The cheese, although mellow, was a blue nonetheless and all we got was a big hit of cheese and a vague taste of alcohol from the IPA, with the exception of a slightly malty false start.
The second cheese match, a smoked cheddar and I & G ‘Original’ fared slightly better, with Chris rather ‘getting into it’ after a few mouthfuls. The cheese had an incredibly light texture almost like it had been whipped and a rich, subtly smoked flavour. For me though, this cheese was a little bit odd; I found the taste and texture rather alien and artificial (Chris finished the lot). The beer did well to punch through with a hoppy bitter finish, but for me the cheeses came last in the race; a shame as I really like the idea of matching beer with cheese. If anyone has any suggestions then do please share them.
Things rather tailed off here, as the oatcakes-jam-beer combo went straight into the ‘let us never speak of this again’ category and we just concentrated on finishing off the beer, which, incidentally, I rather enjoyed. The Blonde was a touch dizzy and vacuous but the rum cask aged number was more of an exciting lean towards the dark side. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable learning experience and a definite kick up the bum to start matching more food and beer. I’m keen to start using more in cooking too, after success with the Punk IPA batter for posh fish fingers and plans in place to use one of the darker beers in a stew.
I think Innis and Gunn have done well to match these beers with foods but have perhaps been slightly distracted by the concept, which is to use products from the surrounding local area; some of the matches seemed to require too much stretching of the imagination. The savoury, smoked foods (cheese excepted) though, worked an absolute treat and I can see myself enjoying a beer and cold collation come Christmas. Then I’ll switch to sherry for dessert.