It started, as these things often do, over beers. At a recent gathering hosted by the British High Commissioner, I had a discussion with Sean Golding, owner of Golding’s Free Dive, about which beer goes best with fish and chips.
I was on the side of light pilsners and lagers, while Sean sided with sour beers like Rodenbach. For the next few weeks, whenever I mentioned this topic to anyone, all I heard was “Rodenbach, Rodenbach, Rodenbach”. The idea is that the sour taste of the beer would complement the salt and fat like vinegar does on chips. I suggested an experiment.
We gathered one night in the back office of Golding’s: Sean and I, along with my partner Narelle, a talented cook with a discerning palate, and Martin Bosley, because if you’re matching beer and fish then you should really have an excellent seafood chef and beer lover. Martin was keen as for this tasting, as he hadn’t had fish and chips in months and had tried few of the beers.
The table was set. We had six beers to taste and a heap of fish and chips. We had basic battered and crumbed fish, battered Bluff oysters and a mound of chips, along with tomato and tartare sauces. We were ready for this.
Schneider Weisse Hefe 5.4% (Germany)
The idea is sound: a Belgian-style wheat beer goes with frîtes and mayo, so why not fish and chips? The consensus was that the flavours were wrong, and more suited to meat than fish.
Panhead Port Road Pilsner 5.2% (Upper Hutt)
I honestly thought this would be a better match than it was. Everyone around the table agreed it was a great beer, but where we wanted a sharp bitterness to carry away the oily taste of the fish, we instead got a smooth, grainy flavour. The lack of sharpness in the beer is normally what makes Port Road Pils so drinkable, but in this case it was a weakness.
Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale 5.7% (Paraparaumu)
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA 7% (USA)
Both of these beers brought that bitterness that we all wanted. The Tuatara APA came in with a very sharp hoppiness, while the Sculpin was more rounded but still bitter enough to carry off the greasy taste of the fish. To be honest, I thought that the strong taste of an APA would overwhelm fish and chips, but instead it balanced the taste brilliantly.
Hallertau Funkonnay 6.5% (Auckland)
This was our New Zealand answer to Rodenbach: a big sour beer and, like Rodenbach, the taste matching was obvious. However, we weren’t as impressed as we thought we’d be. The flavour overwhelmed the fish a little, though it was nicer with tartare sauce than the other beers. We also tried a lighter sour Mikkeller Spontanriesling (7.7% Denmark), but that was a terrible match.
ParrotDog Otis Oatmeal Stout 6.3% (Wellington)
This was the surprise beer of the night. New Zealand beer genius Richard Emerson has often said that the best fish and chip beer is a stout; we could not agree more! The low carbonation and dark ‘burnt’ notes worked incredibly well with all of the flavours of the fish, chips and sauces. So well, in fact, that we decided to double down and introduced a Green Flash Double Stout (8.8% USA); it was just as good.