"Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone, in aid of others, let me shine; and when, alas, my wit hath gone, what nobler substitute than wine? - Byron
Lord Byron wasn't wrong. But why is it that beer is frequently passed over for wine as a beverage for inspiration or contemplation when it is equally as suited to be consumed as an aperitivo, with a meal or for afters?
And what about these beers that are?
I'll try to answer that in a minute.. but will address the problem first. Perception. And I think many people share this common opinion: beer is for drinking. It needs no other accompaniments, no flash glass, and carries no pretense. The colder and the less flavour to hinder the process the better. Down the hatch.
However, interesting to note this uproar over the glass ban at the Blues, Brews and Barbeques that, get this, only affected the beer, not the wine, served at the festival. I think that says more about the preconceived notion of beer drinkers rather than beer itself but that is another matter entirely..
This isn't to say beer should be regarded the same as wine (and open the pandora's box of pretention that the mere mention of wine tastings brings to the average beer drinker) but to correct the notion that beer isn't made to savour. Sniffing and swirling beer might be the stuff of "Yeah right." Tui marketing campaigns but why waste the experience by chugging a traditional European beer or one of the well crafted local brews that are made to linger over or enjoy with food.
Ok, maybe your regular session swill isn't screaming out for seared ahi tuna, flautas with a side of spicy pico di gallo or sticky date pud.. but in many cases I find beer to be the perfect foil to foods that otherwise might not have an ideal wine accompaniment. Fatty, acidic or spicy foods that are more difficult wine companions are perfect with a variety of beer styles.
Even with those classic wine foods, beer does better than hold its own. Cheese, for one, has a magical affinity with beer. A hugely savoury aged cheddar, say, Quickes (available from Canterbury Cheesemongers), is a wonderful beer flavour mate.
As for glassware, ever wonder why Belgian beers in the supermarket or specialty store often make an appearance in gift packs with glassware included at Christmastime? These glasses are the recommended vessels for that beer type. If you were to visit the countries responsible for the major beer styles you'd see what I mean. I'd recommend anyone who hasn't experimented to try them and see the difference.
With the masses of imported beers now popping up in the supermarket, and as much fun as it is to try them, it isn't necessary if you're keen on staying true to the drink local philosophy or just appreciate good Kiwi made quality. You can try beers that are among the best in the world right here at home.
Beers that the South and all of New Zealand should be proud .