Can a five-star meal be enjoyed just as well with a glass of beer as it can with wine? According to Danish contract brewery Mikkeller, a well-crafted beer is perfectly suited to upmarket dining
By Jane Graham
Stig Mansfeldt and Mikkel BjergsÃ¸ of Danish brewery Mikkeller have a mission. They believe beer has great potential as an accompaniment to gourmet food and hope to change people’s perceptions of it as something to be swilled down as quickly as possible into something to be savored.
To illustrate this, Mikkeller has teamed up with a number of Copenhagen’s top restaurants to create a handful of exclusive, complimentary gourmet beers ““ including one for Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant voted world’s best restaurant for the third consecutive year at the 2012 San Pellegrinio Awards.
“It never quite sat well with me that Noma, with its focus exclusively on Scandinavian produce, should compromise with French grapes,” Stig explains. Noma cooks were therefore invited to a tasting at Mikkeller’s bar in the vibrant Vesterbro district of Copenhagen, shortly after its opening in 2010.
One thing led to another, and Mikkeller’s Mikkel BjergsÃ¸ teamed up with a sommelier to create an exclusive Noma beer. They opted for a smooth, Belgian strong ale with a malty body and a hint of hops; unusual for this type of beer, but something of a Mikkeller trademark.
The beer, “˜Noma Novel’, is often served as an aperitif in a thin champagne glass.
Beer vs. Wine
With Copenhagen’s top gourmet restaurants considered as among the world’s best, they’re also known for being open to new ideas and innovation ““ and thus the perfect places to change perceptions of beer.
When Henrik Yde, owner of luxury Thai restaurant Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen’s Norrebro district, held the concept dinner, “˜Beer versus wine’, Mikkeller was asked to provide the beer. Guests were introduced to a glass of beer and wine with each course, and had to choose which they preferred.
“We actually won a few rounds,” recalls Stig.
“Yde then had to acknowledge that even in the world of gourmet food, where wine has always been king, there might be something about beer. Our “˜Kiin Kiin’ beer is a spiced pilsner that complements Asian food and is spiced with lemongrass.”
Qualities of greatness
One of Mikkel’s favorite restaurants is Mielcke & Hurtigkarl, in the Copenhagen suburb of Frederiksberg, and it was here that a partnership began based on Mikkel’s status as a restaurant regular.
“˜Mielke & Hurtigkarl’ is perhaps the most refined beer Mikkeller has produced to date, and like Noma Novel – a Belgian strong ale, but one that has been aged in barrels from one of the world’s finest wines, the French Sauterne Chateau d’Yquem. This brings hints of oak, fruitiness and both sweet and sour touches to the beer, comparable to great wines.
When asked what qualities are needed to make a Michelin star beer, Stig Mansfeldt turns the question around: “What does a wine possess to become a Michelin star wine? Reputation?”
“The perception of beer in general has to change,” says Stig. “Most people don’t know there are other styles of beer than a boring lager, but when the reputation and knowledge of beers gets stronger, I can foresee some excellent beers in world class restaurants.”
Stig’s top beers to enjoy with a meal
When it comes to starters, Stig favors a beer produced by spontaneous fermentation, an unusual process that gives the beer a distinctive flavor, and one used traditionally in Belgium.
“A hoppy pilsner, a guezue or a lambic can do very well with light dishes, starters and fish. Spontaneously fermented beers often have a refreshing sourness comparable to a good white wine.”
To follow, “I could always drink a full-bodied hoppy IPA with meat,” recommends Stig. “For desserts, I think a particularly heavy stout complements very well. For example, Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch, an oatmeal coffee stout made with Vietnamese kopi luwak (an exotic type of coffee made from the bean droppings of wild weasels), is excellent with chocolate, cakes and cheese.”