Food & Drinks

When craft beer meets ‘proper’ food


Maxwell Gathuku (left) and Kelvin Kamau brewers at Noir Gallery on Friday, May 20, 2022, during the Craft beer tasting. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

Beer is taking its rightful place alongside wine at the dinner table. Nowadays Kenyans are raising a glass of craft beer on food pairing tables. So how do you pair beer and food?

Finding the perfect brew for a meal is not always easy, just as it is with wine and whisky.

254 Brewing Co recently hosted a craft beer pairing at Noir Gallery on Nairobi’s Muthangari Drive. Beer lovers tried four different kinds of craft beers which were paired with different kinds of food.

Before the guests were immersed, Kelvin Kamau, one of the cicerones (an expert in serving and pairing beer) took the guests through the steps of enjoying a craft beer and food pairing.

If you are used to swilling down beer without thought to its bouquet or flavour, do not despair, he said. All you have to do is use your senses. Pause and consider the following five aspects of the beer.

Aroma— Much of what people think of as taste is perceived through the nose. Before taking a sip, swirl the beer in the glass and take a deep whiff. Note the scent of fruit, herbs, ginger, hops, malt, and other added aroma.

Mouthfeel — Take a drink and let it rest in the mouth. Swish it around. What does the beer feel like? Pay attention to temperature, carbonation, creaminess, body, astringency, and burning, numbing, or cooling sensations.

Taste — What is the basic taste sensation of the beer on the tongue: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami (savoury)? Sometimes, it is easier to tell after swallowing.

Flavour— What flavours are present in the beer? Does it have chocolate, vanilla, or caramel undertones? Is it smoky, fruity, citrusy, or peppery?

Intensity — Look at the colour of the beer. Typically, the darker a beer the more intense the flavour. Assess the overall strength of the brew. Is it delicate or strong, light or heavy?

The first beer of the night was Niaje Lager, 4.5 percent ABV. Niaje is named after a popular Swahili slang of hello. It was previously known as Ni How, but it rebranded to Niaje in February 2022.

Niaje is a light beer that goes well with chicken, cheese and beef. But on this night, it was paired with smoked creamy mash mini steak with chilli sauce.

Why pair lagers with a spicy meal? “Because it helps create a collaboration of aromas and taste,” said Kelvin.

The second craft beer of the night was a dark stout— Power Out Stout. Interestingly, this is the third bottled stout in Kenya, after Guinness FES and Guinness Smooth.

Kelvin, who works at 254 Brewing Co, said their Nitrogen Brewed Stout is only served in draught and available at the brewery in Kikuyu.

A stout is paired with salty foods such as crisps and bacon. The chef and master brewers paired Power Out Stout with mini hassle back potatoes on sour cream sauce that were garnished with bacon bites.

The culinary and craft beer journey continued with the pairing of Sand Trap IPA 7 percent ABV with tuna potato cooked on a bed of pineapple tartar sauce, while Muratatu Belgian Tripel 10.4 percent ABV, was paired with lemon and herb chicken lollipops.

Robyn Anyonge, the CEO of Noir Gallery said that the craft beer tasting is a great way to sample different lagers, IPAs, pale ales and porters.

The thirst for craft beers in Kenya and the world is increasing therefore there is need to educate the consumer and share with them the fascinating history of craft.

“Have you ever heard someone say something like, ‘I don’t eat onions, or I don’t like IPAs?’” Robyn asked. “My mission is to educate such people. I want when guests come to Noir Gallery to be open-minded enough to try everything.”

Eoin Flinn, the CEO and co-founder of 254 Brewing Co said tastings and pairings at restaurants such as Noir Gallery will help the brewery recruit an active craft beer movement in Kenya.

“Noir Gallery is such a beautiful, natural spot with great food, so feels like it’s an ideal place to introduce people to fresh beer. We’re stoked to work with them,” he said.

According to Flinn, craft beer is a great match for food because of the complexity of its flavours, its ability to provide refreshment and to interact with many food flavours.

Kenya is among the ‘mature’ craft beer industries in Africa. The country’s craft beer industry has been in existence for more than 10 years now and shows no signs of putting breaks on its growth pedestal.

The craft beer market in Africa is expected to grow at 29 percent in the next three years.

“As craft beer entrepreneurs we are equally optimist about the potential of Africa’s craft beer,” said Flinn.

In Kenya, craft beer drinkers account for about one percent with East African Breweries Limited (EABL) accounting for 90 percent market share, followed by Kwal, and Keroche.

The rule of the thumb; experiment because it is hard to go wrong with craft beer.

Here are some pairing hints:

Pale Ales: These beers “have become universally appropriate with most common meals. The slight caramel flavour, mild hop flavour and bitterness allow the pale ale to pair with burgers, pizza, fish and chips, hot dogs, BBQ.”

IPAs: “IPAs with big IBUs (International Bitterness Units) lend to Indian and Thai flavours. The abundant spice from classic hops pairs perfectly with cumin, ginger, soy, sesame and curry.”

Sours: “This is another difficult foodie pairing. Often when drinking sours, you are not dining. You out with your friends. It is delicious with fresh fish and this bubbly, slightly sour beer complements well with light, savoury flavours.”

Brown Ales: “They go with a rich, warm puff pastry filled with roasted root vegetables, sautéed veal and onion and velvety mashed potatoes combined with melted cheddar cheese.”

Stouts: “Stouts go well with roasted foods; smoked foods; barbecued/grilled foods; salty foods; oysters; rich stews; braised dishes; chocolate; desserts (ideally the beer is sweeter than the dish).”

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