Best Beers to go with a Curry

Curry and beer, beer and curry, there is perhaps no more beautiful partnership in the culinary kingdom. If you’re anything like me, just knowing that you’re going out for a curry in the evening lifts the whole day. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bad experience in a British curry house. My friend, whom I won’t name (and you’ll find out why in a minute), says the same and he was once dumped by his first serious girlfriend in an Indian restaurant.

The best moment for me is the crack of the first poppadom and the initial swig of beer. I’m aware that I may be coming across a big drinker, but I’m not actually a massive fan of the booze. I enjoy a beer, drink wine and like the occasional single malt, but it’s the flavours and refreshment that appeal to me. Once or twice, in my younger days, I ended up at a nearby curry house along with a group of mates, all of us slightly worse for wear; but soon discovered that if you drink too much you can’t taste the food. No, two or three drinks is just enough to get the best out of the food. So, the best moment for me is the first sip of beer taken after a mouthful of crispy poppadom topped with pickles and a sprinkling of cucumber and onion. Why isn’t the best bit the starters or main? Because I know they’re coming and it’s all about the anticipation… Right, I’m 250 words into this article and I’ve got to go and have a curry. I’ve literally just talked myself into it.

I’m back. You might think this is just some writer’s conceit, he didn’t actually go for curry, did he? I really did: two poppadoms, onion bhaji, lamb madras, rice and a naan, washed down with a couple of Cobras.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the best beers to pair with a curry. Some qualifications are necessary at this point: by ‘curry’ I mean all aspects of the meal from the poppadoms onwards; and although I refer to ‘beer’, I am including a cider. 

Now, one of the beers I’ll be discussing is a porter which is most definitely a kind of beer. I wouldn’t normally have felt the need to mention this but my friend, the one who was dumped in a curry house and whom I will not name for his sake, insists that porters are not beers but stouts. He rewarded my invitation out for curry last night (I actually referred to it as ‘research for an article’) by attempting to argue this point at great length. Suffice it to say, he’s wrong, porters and stouts are both beers. If my friend, or any dear readers, want to press the point then they can take it up with Michael J. Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Food and Technology at the University of California, Davis, who literally wrote the book on stout. In his book he clearly states that stouts and porters are types of beer. This out the way, and good friend chastened, let’s begin.

Best Beers to go with a curry

This list is in no particular order and where a particular beer is placed should not be taken as a mark of merit. I’ve dealt with the Cobra and Kingfisher first simply because of their ubiquity and popularity.

Kingfisher (4.8%)

Type: Lager

Producer: United Breweries Group

Origin: India, 1857 (relaunched, 1978)

A refreshing and crisp lager, Kingfisher is also slightly bitter and so pairs best with smoky flavours. This beer goes best with anything from the tandoor, so any marinated meats cooked in the intense heat of the traditional clay oven. If a dish has the word ‘tandoori’ in the name, you won’t go wrong ordering a Kingfisher to wash it down.

Cobra (4.5%)

Type: Lager

Producer: Molson Coors Cobra India

Origin: India, 1989

Consciously made lower in carbonation so that drinkers don’t become too bloated on gas to enjoy eating their meal, Cobra is a curry house standard. It has a grassy, almost floral taste that is robust enough to cope with strong curry flavours but won’t over power more delicate dishes. Not surprisingly, given that it was created by its founder Karan Bilimoria for the purpose of pairing with curry, Cobra is a great all-arounder at the curry house.

Jaipur IPA (5.9%)

Type: IPA

Producer: Thornbridge Brewery

Origin: UK, 2005

IPAs, or Indian Pale Ales, would seem to be a natural fit for Indian food. These light, hoppy ales were introduced to India in the early nineteenth century. Jaipur is a more recent brew, originating in 2005 as the flagship beer of the Thornbridge Brewery. Smooth and easy to drink, Jaipur ends with a strong hoppy flavour with notes of citrus. A little high percentage-wise, this IPA is deceptively smooth so a little care is needed. Of course, not all curry houses will stock it but Jaipur seems to be readily available at most large supermarkets. Best served with fried starters, such as meat and vegetable samosas; the hops and fruit flavours go fantastically well. Be sure to check out my article on Indian starters.

St. Peter’s Old Style Porter (5.1%)

Type: Porter ale

Producer: St. Peter’s Brewery

Origin: UK, 1996

The St. Peter’s Brewery turns out some truly fantastic, and award-winning, beers. Their Old Style Porter, won CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) Champion Beer of Suffolk in 2005. It is doubtful you’ll find the iconic oval shaped bottles in your local curry house but if you’re eating at home, St. Peter’s products are regularly stocked in Waitrose. The Old Style porteris a beer (yes, porters are beer, let’s not go into that again) with the rich dark flavours of chocolate, coffee, rum and raisin. It will overpower lighter chicken and fish dishes; but the stronger flavoured, slow-cooked lamb curries such as lamb rogan josh or an earthy lentil dahl will benefit from this Old Style Porter.

Aspall Draught Cider (5.5%)

Type: Cider

Producer: Molson Coors

Origin: UK, early 18th C. (bought by Molson Coors, 2018)

No arguments from me this time, I fully accept that cider is not beer! Consider this a wild card. Medium dry and not too sweet, Aspall Draught Cider pairs well with all mild curries. Unlike some of the cheaper ciders that can have an artificial taste, Aspall has the flavour of real apples coming through. I have found this cider on sale in some curry houses (Strongbow is much more commonly offered if cider is on offer) and it is widely available in UK supermarkets. The north Indian dish of Chicken Karahi, that is often prepared with apple cider vinegar, pairs particularly well with Aspall’s.