It’s fair to say that for all of its unassailable popularity, or perhaps because of it, beer has a bit of an image problem here in Britain.
Favoured by the infamous Carling-coated lager louts of desolate pre-dawn high street fame and shunned by the health-conscious consensus against alcohol, good old fashioned beer – in this time of wine and artisanal cider – feels like the talisman of a bygone era, the Harry Enfield of the beverage world, stuck in an endless loop of Football’s Coming Home beneath a mid ’90s haze of drunken glory. Swigging from a can of Carlsberg Export as you bowl it down the street isn’t the bohemian dream it once was. Where, after all, is the now-ubiquitous twist of lime?
Like everything in London, beer is becoming artisanal and trendy: we’re going back to cask-ale, locally-brewed craft beers, authentic stuff with awards and labels and names like Rabbit’s Foot and Boudicca’s Bum (possibly).
Even the corporate tankard titans are getting in on the act, as proven by the recent launches of Foster’s Radlers and Caring Zest providing that laid-back continental kick for increasingly discerning customers.
At the Renaissance Hotel in St Pancras, a baroque cross between a Sultan’s palace and Bowser’s castle, they’ve prepared a Beer & Bites menu, presented by one of Britain’s leading beer sommeliers Marverine Cole, to celebrate the launch of the hotel’s own beer label.
Judging by this comfortingly unpretentious brew alone, it’s a success: the St Pancras Hotel beer is a quiet riot of crisp bitters and floral sweetness. No need for some artificial citrus twist to mask innate nastiness of taste, this beer is nice to drink all on its own.
But, as Marverine shows us, it’s even better when you pair it up with some food: turns out you can match ales and beers to various nibbles as well as wine. Some of the pairings are divine, some of them less so – I’m thinking in particular of the Dominion Root Beer which tasted exactly like the antiseptic pink liquid that dentists give you to wash your mouth out post-surgery, paired with an unforgivably hoggy cocktail sausage wrapped in bacon. Other pairings are more successful – a creamy stout with a texture reminiscent of hot cocoa was accompanied by weirdly moreish haggis bon bons and classically crispy calamari in a pairing so perfect it would make Cupid jealous.
Finally, bursting through the manicured intelligence of the artfully matched couples, came the calypso beat of the Beer Mojito, unremittingly sweet and fruity, cutting through the palate like a rip-roaring saxophone solo through a concert pianist’s delicate finale. Fistfuls of fresh mint adorn its icy surface, syrupy yet refreshing, half Bond and half Del Boy. It’s the ideal dessert to the preceding savoury and bitter bites and burps. It’s beer, all right, but not as you know it – it might even be enough to make the stuff trendy again.
Booking Office Restaurant and Bar
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
Tel: 020 7841 3540
Image courtesy of Ewan M/Flickr