Onions. The humble bulb that was worshipped by ancient Egyptians (but then, wasn’t everything?), rubbed on the muscles of Roman gladiators to firm them up, and used as medicine in the middle ages to facilitate bowel movements and erections, and to relieve headaches, coughs, snakebite and hair loss.* Of all the ingredients that spring (ahem) to mind when you wade through the panoply of beer and food pairing, onions have to be pretty much near the bottom. Until now. Yes, when given the chance to try what has to be one of the more unique beers that you’ll ever hope to experience, the other day it seemed apt that the opportunity also arose to pair that beer with pretty much the exact set of flavours in food form. And we’re not even talking about regular onions here, either. No, the layers (ahem) of specificity went far deeper than that.
* That’s quite a weekend
The gloriously named Aji Bhaji – a 7.5% Topaz-hopped amber with caramelised onions, spices and Aji Limon chillies – is just the latest in a series of left-field beers produced by Elixir Brew Co, with Ben Bullen being a sort of brewing equivalent of William Buckland (previous beers Ben has been involved with have included ingredients such as peas, lapsang suchong tea and cous cous). With the sort of happy co-incidence that so often happens when you flip the cap off an onion beer, that very evening it was discovered that Domino’s now offer onion bhaji pieces as a ‘guest topping’ on their build-it-yourself pizzas. The opportunity to pair liquid and solid bhaji goodness was just too enticing to withstand.
After all, the three main pillars of beer and food matching are often stated to be the C’s of Cut, Complement and Contrast. With exactly the same ingredient in each, in front of us had to have been the ultimate ‘complementary’ moment. And so it proved, the beer had a twin dynamic of warming chilli (from the sweet, citrus fruity Aji) and the tangy hum of onions. And the pizza, well, it had fairly imperceptible pieces of gritty overcooked onion. But you could just about taste it, if you channelled everything else out. Onion to onion. Pull them from the soil, add them to pizza and brew with them. Craft.
Onion bhaji beer paired with an onion bhaji pizza. The most specific food-pairing out there?