Whyte & Brown: Free Range Chicken

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I love the idea of putting beer and chicken together.

Each is so common, so ubiquitous, it gets taken for granted. Chicken is just chicken, and beer is just beer, right?

Wrong.

Look a little closer at each, and the variety within them is astonishing.

Versatility is their strength. While we may think of, say, a plain roast chicken and a pint of lager in the UK, if you go around the world you see the same ingredients twisted into new and exciting expressions wherever you go. Both chicken and beer might be accessible to everyone, but what people do to them in different countries can become a source of national identity. Bring all these different expressions together in one place, and you have more variety and flavour than you could ever have imagined.

This is what fascinates me about the Whyte and Brown menu. If you’re used to seeing the chicken dish on the menu in a pub, a fast food chain, a curry house and a fine dining restaurant, this place turns that principle upside down and takes you around the world’s palate on the back of one humble bird. Having to choose between chicken skin crisps, wings and burgers, salads and slouvaki, you realise the possibilities are infinite.

And then you turn to beer, and find that hops, barley, water and yeast can combine to create a universe of flavours, from the spicy fruit of wheat beer to the zingy buzz of IPA to the warmth and complexity of stout and porter.

Britain has always been home to one of the world’s greatest brewing traditions. And just when it started to look like classic British ale was bowing out and making room for global lager, brewers have discovered other great brewing traditions from Germany and the Czech Republic, mixed in the new explosion of craft beer that was born in the US, and reinvented brewing and beer to give us the greatest diversity and complexity of flavour we’ve ever had.

So if beer and chicken are unsung heroes, capable of delivering unexpected greatness each in their own right, what happens if you put them together?

Beer and chicken love each other, both in the kitchen and on the dining table. In cooking, beer is part of the perfect marinade, glaze, sauce or flavouring. Beer can chicken is probably the ultimate coming together of the two, and a staple of my back garden barbecue this summer, the beer steaming up inside the cavity, keeping the meat deliciously moist as well as adding an extra layer of flavour.

When it comes to something to eat with the finished dish, the caramelisation in cooked chicken finds its perfect partner in the malty backbone of many beers, and zesty, fruity, aromatic hops play tunes with the spices and seasonings of many dishes.

I bet you’re feeling bad now for under-estimating the humble bird and the lowly beer. Don’t worry, no one is blaming you. We’ve all been guilty in taking these things for granted.

Look at it this way: there’s a whole new world of flavour to explore. And whatever new ideas are on the menu and beer list, there are many more to come.

Pete Brown is an award-winning writer, consultant and broadcaster specialising in beer, pubs & cider.  His books include the fantastic Hops and Glory and Man Walks into a Pub. Follow him on Twitter @petebrownbeer