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Tom Kitchin: wine and beer can complement each other

The chef behind the Michelin-starred The Kitchin in Edinburgh believes wine and beer can complement each other by “offering a different approach to food matching”.

As a chef that promotes the ‘nature-to-plate’ ethos, it is perhaps unsurprising that Tom Kitchin supports the British national drink.

Speaking to the drinks business, he said rather than it being a case of one or the other, wine and beer can work together “by offering a different approach to food matching”.

As well as his eponymous Leith-based restaurant, Kitchin also owns sister restaurant Castle Terrace and bistro The Scran & Scallie, and in December last year, announced that he was opening a fourth restaurant in the Scottish capital.

A long-term proponent of beer, in 2015, he collaborated with Isle of Skye Brewing Co. to produce Yer Ben, a 5.5% pale ale dedicated to his grandfather and now sold in his restaurants.

Continuing he said: “Beer has changed over the past few years, moving from an aperitif status to becoming more and more of a gastronomic accompaniment while eating”.

He admitted, however, that this has not necessarily been reflected in the UK’s fine dining restaurants with most still offering “a small selection of beers”.

Asked whether he believes ‘house beers’ will become more common in UK restaurants, Kitchin said he prefers the term ‘beer of the season’.

“As soon as the word ‘house’ is used to describe a drink, the customer’s perception is that it is cheap and not very interesting,” he said.

On the other hand, he added: “I have noticed recently that bars and restaurants are being approached by craft breweries who design a beer specifically for that venue”.

A firm believer in beer’s food matching capabilities, Kitchin told the drinks business that he’s planning to add one dish with a beer pairing option to his tasting menu.

“Some beers with higher ABVs are for example, slightly richer and darker and therefore complement winter meat dishes, or a sweeter beer could be used to match a dessert.

“At Castle Terrace, a classic combination to start would be oysters and dark beer (Loch Fyne Brewery do a great example of this with their Sanda Black IPA) and we are planning to add one dish with a beer pairing option to our tasting menu.

“Also, beer can easily be used as an ingredient for a meaty dish or even mixed into a cocktail to produce a rich and sweet drink to accompany a dessert”.

Kitchin has even used beer in a dessert, producing an ice cream using his Yer Ben beer, for example.

“As well as using Yer Ben at The Kitchin in some of our desserts, we also often use a dark beer in our steak pie at The Scran & Scallie. We try to use beer in cocktails throughout the group which often give a lovely mouth feel,” he added.

When asked whether beer’s lower price point can prevent it from being seen as suitable accompaniment to fine dining, Kitchin believes that demand will drive change.

“Over the past few years, craft beers have really risen in popularity and therefore there is a higher demand for these products. As a result, there is now such a wide range of quality beers available that I think there is definitely a place for it on fine dining establishment bar and drinks lists,” he said.

But what can restaurants do to convince the doubters? Kitchin suggests better glassware, temperature control and different sized serves might help.

“The style of glass makes a big difference to the aroma produced by the beer in the same way that a Champagne glass would differ from a large Bordeaux. It’s always nice to have the option of size.

“At The Scran & Scallie we have a range of bottled cask and draft beers from a quarter pint to a full pint. Temperature also comes into the equation, how great is it having a cold beer in a cold glass!”

Indeed Scan & Scallie has the largest beer list of Kitchin’s restaurants, with beers such as Paolozzi’s Scottish craft lager, Stewart Brewing’s Edinburgh Gold and Campervan Brewery’s Hoppy Botanist available on draught. It also boasts an 11-bottle beer list (The Kitchin has seven plus a seasonal beer, Castle Terrace has five) as well as two bottled ciders.

Educating staff on the restaurant’s beer offering is also essential, according to Kitchin.

“As well as in-house staff training and tastings, we organise regular brewery tours for the team. I think it’s really important for everyone to see the process from start to finish and we have found them to be very beneficial for the team’s self-development and general knowledge,” he added.

* For an in-depth account of beer in the UK on-trade, take at look at the feature on pp102-105 in the March issue of the drinks business magazine.

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