I am a firm believer that beer pairs with food just as well, if not better, than wine. There are so many different beer styles, with a vast range of flavours that can compliment all kinds of dishes from sweet to savoury. Thankfully I’m not alone in this thinking and John Quigley from Red Onion Restaurant also agrees. John has had an incredible life in food, starting off as a chef in a London restaurant to becoming a private chef to the stars including Tina Turner and Bryan Adams and the incredible Guns n Roses, where he learnt to cater to all sorts of weird and wonderful dietary requirements. He now owns Red Onion restaurant in Glasgow, just up from the city centre on West Campbell Street. He specialises in catering for all dietary requirements – he has a full menu for vegan and gluten-free guests as well as the regular menu, featuring classics like steak and bang bang chicken. Last weekend, he was doing a Facebook live cook-a-long for Glasgow Pantry, sharing the recipes for on those very two dishes and invited me along via Zoom to share my thoughts on what beers would work best to accompany them both.
Bang Bang Chicken
This is a firm favourite in the restaurant – a light, spicy and zingy salad with a peanut dressing and fresh lime and mint. On hearing what goes into making Bang Bang chicken, I immediately thought of lager, in particular, a Pilsner. I chose Merchant City Brewing‘s Pilsner because not only are they a Glasgow-based brewery and I wanted to keep it local, but their Pilsner is a fantastic example of the style. It’s very light, with quite a lot of lemon coming through in the aroma which would help to amplify the citrus in the salad. The bitterness cuts through the creamy peanut dressing to sharpen the flavours and it’s extremely refreshing to help cool your mouth from the chilli heat.
My second option was for those who maybe aren’t quite beer converts yet, or are craving a cocktail but can’t be bothered with the faff of making them at home. Mojito Sour is from another Glasgow brewery, Ride Brewing. This is brewed with lime zest in the boil and mint and lime is added at the end. The result is pretty much exactly like drinking a mojito! I was a little worried it was just going to taste like just another fruity sour, but was delighted when the focus really was getting that mojito taste, with only a slightly sour note. Mint, lime….I needn’t really say more on why this worked so well with the Bang Bang.
Steak with Creamed Spinach and Sauté Potatoes
Steak and red wine are a match made in heaven. But you can pair beer with red wine too! The rich flavours you associate with red wine – dark fruits, a tannin bitterness and a little sweetness, can all be found in beer, albeit from different raw ingredients. I’ve looked at two beer styles depending on what kind of wine you like.
Those who like a deep, rich and smooth red like a Cab Suav, could try a stout or porter. You’d be best getting one with no adjuncts that will alter the tatse. Porters tend to be slightly sweeter and less bitter than stouts so depending on your preference, you could pick either. I chose Elemental by Tempest which is a lovely, decadent porter with loads of dry, rich and dark fruits with a slight bitter chocolate aftertaste. The bold flavours really stand up to the steak and the dryness provides a nice contrast to the creamed spinach and potatoes.
Alternatively, if you prefer a spicier red with lighter fruits (like a Merlot maybe?! My wine knowledge is very limited…), then a rye beer is for you. I LOVE this Red Rye by Barney’s in Edinburgh. Rye gives a lovely, spicy, peppercorn note and it has a rich, almost umami, meaty depth of flavour. This combined with lighter fruits and a slight sweetness results in a whirlwind of flavour captured in this unassuming beer.