It takes just two seconds, but 20 minutes and 15 seconds into Episode 4 of BBC2’s Food & Drink, there’s a shocking revelation.
OK, so I have deliberately mistaken a vernacular ellipsis for an admission of air-headedness, but there’s history with BBC food and beer, and I’m not talking (about) Simon Schama. BBC TV food magazine programmes don’t talk about beer. Or very rarely.
And it appears this episode of Food & Drink is to be one of those exceptional occasions, when after four minutes, Kate Goodman, the programme’s “drinks expert” reveals her recommendations of what to go with the gourmet shepherd’s pie dinner Michelin-starred Michel Roux Jr has prepared.
As in previous episodes, she has three beverages to suggest: always a wine and a soft drink, and something else, this time (gasp) a beer! This is what we have been waiting for. The blanket wine dominance of Saturday Kitchen is, if not forgotten, then at least (partially) forgiven. What would her choice of beer be?
The wine she picked sounds like a good match for the robust and “hearty” lamb dish and the chilli-spiced stir-fried cabbage M. Roux has chosen as his accompanying vegetable. A Cairanne red from Côtes du Rhone Villages.
Tell us about the beer!
“My second choice is a full-bodied bitter” says Kate. (Great! Which one?)
All we are told is this beer has: “Freshness that will work really well with the spicy cabbage, and at the same time a rich fruitiness that will cope with the wholesome meatiness of the pie.”
(Is that it? It would appear so!)
The close-up reveals only a corner of the bottle’s label, showing the beer is 4.7% ABV. The text reveals “Traditional real ale” and “Golden and floral”.
Then later, during the tasting with the food, Kate describes the Côtes du Rhone: “Loads of Grenache grapes…” “Juicy fruit (blackcurrant)…” and “A little bit of white pepper“.
“So what have I got?” asks Michel Roux.
“The lovely spicy, peppery ale.” chimes Kate.
(Yes, but what is it? I shout.)
“It’s Hearty” we hear, “So it’s good for the shepherd’s pie.”
“Equally it will bring out the flavours of the cabbage and the chilli because it’s got that spicy, peppery character.”
(Yes, it’s a spicy, peppery ale, you said that!)
“It’s a damn good match,” Michel Jr admits. (Wow!) “I do like my beer, but I like my wine more!”
(Howls of laughter. Subtext: Of course he does – how could anyone like beer more than wine?)
And that’s all we get to know. The message appears to be: any old beer will do.
OK, let’s take another look
Now, let’s be generous for a minute. The pattern of the drinks recommendations on Food & Drink seems to be different from Saturday Kitchen’s blatant supermarket adverts. Kate offers more general tips – a region rather than a specific label or bottle is intended to give the viewer room for purchasing manoeuvre; we don’t all live near a Waitrose or Majestic.
But is a general beer style, equivalent to a wine district? Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table, the de facto food and beer matching reference, suggests: “bitter, British brown ale, porter, Irish stout, [and] dunkel” as matches for shepherd’s pie. So Kate is at least in agreement with the master. How can we complain?
And yet it seems rather a cop-out. To many with scant knowledge of beer, there appear to be three beer styles in the UK: bitter, lager and stout (read Guinness). Kate Goodman’s wine choice is not merely Côtes du Rhone, but from a sub-region of a small part of one French wine style. Is it not then the job of the drinks expert, to narrow the focus and point out differences in the macro-style bitter?
Would it hurt too much to say she chose an English best bitter above 4.5% ABV, and why? Perhaps mention the colour (copper, amber, golden), Whether the hops give it a floral or citrus aroma (or any aroma). “Full-bodied bitter” doesn’t give people much to go on, and with the slight aspersions cast during dinner banter, it gives the impression (to me) that it doesn’t much matter.
I am being harsh for comic effect, in my opening, to suggest a Michelin-starred chef and his cohort are ciphers on the level of talking meringues, but beer lovers have again left feeling second-class. The hope that “drink” in Food & Drink would open the stage to beers of all descriptions remains unfulfilled.
Oh, and Saturday Kitchen is so not forgiven.
The bit where the Michel and Kate from Food & Drink “admit” they are “talking meringues”