These days the Indian restaurants I've been to have wonderfully delicate balances of flavours and aromatics yet most restaurants serve lager or a lager variant. Now I do like a drop of Bangla but I think ale drinkers could come up with hundreds of beers that would accompany a curry more appropriately.
There are lot of things completely wrong with lager as an accompaniment to spicy food; it is too gassy for a start and, for me, it very often doesn't have enough "cut" and the flavours are rather one dimensional.
For my experiment I made notes of six beers, all of which I brewed myself from kits widely available in local homebrew shops or online. Some were brewed "as is" and some had added ingredients but, for benchmarking purposes, all were drunk with the same curry, a chicken bhuna made with sharwoods bhuna sauce. I had originally thought I would make a curry from scratch but, if you do that, they all turn out a bit differently and, far more importantly, I'm a lazy git and I really couldn't be bothered.
The six beers were:
- Woodforde's Great Eastern with Elderflowers (6.25%)
- Coopers Aussie Pale Ale (brewed with hopped light spraymalt and golden cane sugar, 6.25%)
- Geordie Mild (brewed with Dark Spraymalt & Golden cane sugar, 7%)
- Brewferm Abdij (Brewed with dark Candi Sugar) 7%
- Coopers IPA with Amarillo hops 5%
- Brupaks Scammonden Dark (brewed "as is") 4.2%
The Great Eastern was a lovely beer, light golden in colour and floral in bouquet and a lovely drink it its own right but it just didn't go with the curry. It was too gassy (my fault, I'd not let it ferment out before I bottled it. I suspect the version I'd done before without the elderflowers that had a caramelly finish (I'd drunk the lot by the time it was five weeks old) might have gone better.
I'd nominated the Aussie Pale purely because when I first tasted it, it reminded me of a Bangla, like a lager but a bit maltier. It goes ok with the curry but didn't really rock my world to be honest.
The same could not have been said for the Geordie Mild. As far as I am concerned Mild and Porter styles are born to go with curry, not too gassy, full of winter fruit flavours, subtle enough not to dominate the dish and strong enough to hold it's own. At 37.5 p a pint it was also the cheapest pint in the test.
The Belgian style kits really do need long maturation times. I'd made this one back in August but didn't test it until late October when it was not terribly pleasant at all. However, by December it had really come into its own. The Abdij, a dark abbey style beer went well with the Bhuna although the carbonation was higher than I would have liked.
I'd expected the Indian Pale Ale to go well with Indian food and with the extra Amarillo hops giving it a really citrussy lift I wasn't disappointed. This is one of my favourite brews so far and has a fair chance of becoming my house brew (I've got another one on and I'm dry hopping the Amarillo this time). Carbonation levels were good but not over gassy.
The Scammonden Dark is another example of the excellent Brupaks kits. I brewed this one as per instructions including making a "tea" out of the hop tea bag. It truly pushed the Geordie Mild to the limit and had many of the same characteristics, robust but not overpowering flavour and it did seem to pick out the spices in the curry particularly well.
Ultimately, the Geordie Mild won this battle of the brews; I don't suppose my words will be having restaurateurs galloping off to their nearest micro brewery demanding bottles of mild to go with their curry but if one person who reads this blog tries a mild with their next takeaway it'll be worth it to me.