Last weekend I booked a table at my favourite local restaurant, The Thai Kitchen in Frome, a small family business serving superb fresh Thai food, packed with flavour and liberally scattered with spicy chilli. They have a bring-your-own booze policy and, rather handily, are next door to the town’s Marks and Spencer store. M&S has a great range of beers – most of which they sell under their own label but are brewed by renowned UK and international breweries. For this occasion I decided it would be worth finding out what the experts suggest is the best beer pairing for spicy Thai food, so contacted star sommelier Sophie Atherton for her opinion. Her task was harder for not knowing precisely I would order* but, in general terms, she suggested either a strong Belgian pale ale, a saison or a pale ale flavoured with coconut. M&S don’t stock a saison and they certainly don’t have any beers that count coconut as an ingredient**, but they do have fair choice of Belgian brews – so I went for the strongest, a 6.5% Belgian Blond.
This beer is produced by the Flemish Huyghe Brewery, and they know what they’re doing – their extensive range includes Delerium Tremens, widely regarded as one of the region’s finest tipples.
Back at the restaurant, the beer popped open with a friendly hiss and immediately the familiar fragrance of eau de Belgium was mingling with the spicy aroma of Thailand. It wasn’t long before the chilli heat was setting off sparks, but the beer gently caressed the mouth with a lovely, sweet maltiness before drifting off to leave the food flavours to dominate. In return, the spices accentuated the beer’s distinctive yeastiness for an extremely rewarding global partnership.
Such was its effectiveness that my dinner partner repeatedly reached over the table to douse her own flames with my soothing Belgian beer blanket. This is a high quality, proper Belgian blond ale that would be a worthy accompaniment to many fine meals, not least a splendid feast of tasty Thai tucker.
Brewery: Brouwerij Huyghe, Melle, Belgium
Beer name: Marks and Spencer Belgian Blond Beer
*The restaurant rotates their menu and on this visit it included my favourite, must-order dish, khao soi. A red curry with chicken, creamy coconut and egg noodles – both soft boiled and deep fried. But best of all it comes with pickled mustard greens.