Mrs Beeton was the grande dame of traditional cooking. In 1861 she wrote Beeton’s Book of Household Management and it sold over 60,000 copies. It has remained in print ever since. Her recipes include everything from bread soup and minced mutton to curried fowl and empress pudding. But it’s perhaps her recommendations for what to include in a picnic hamper that are most interesting. Take a deep breath: a joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue, 2 veal and ham pies, 2 pigeon pies, 6 medium lobsters, 1 piece of collard calf's head, 18 lettuces, 6 baskets of salad, 6 cucumbers. And that’s just the savoury food, the sweet list is twice as long and is enough to make the hardiest of dentists shudder.
You’ll be glad to hear that Mrs Beeton has given as much thought to the drinks that should accompany a picnic as she has the food. At the top of her beverage list is 3 dozen quart bottles of ale. So, while we’re not suggesting you replicate the food offering of her Victorian feast, we agree that beer is best for a picnic.
Whatever food you take on a picnic beer has got it covered, even if the weather hasn’t. But the one thing almost all of us carry in our hampers and lay on our blankets are sandwiches, and there’s a beer for those too.
With so much variety of dish and therefore flavour in most modern days picnics it means, that with over 140 different styles, beer has the diversity to match them all.
Lager, which should always be included in your hamper. They're crisp, clean and offer more than most drinkers appreciate. A classic pale lager has a rich, caramel base overlaid with a peppery bitterness, whereas German pilsners (referred to as Pils) will have a restrained lemony, herbal bitterness. Then there’s Helles, which rely slightly more on malt for their flavour than Pilsners but with a similar clean and refreshing flavour. This diversity means a lager will complement all those picnic classics like pork pies, salad, scotch eggs, sausages (cocktail or otherwise) cheese and ham sandwiches and that picnic staple charcuterie.
Wheat beers are equally adept at bringing out the best in your picnic favourites. These refreshing, citrusy and spritzy ales are like summer in a glass and their light character make them an ideal to accompaniment to lighter food. Citrus notes mean they complement chicken, prawns, salmon and most seafood brilliantly. They’re also a great partner to egg based dishes so the obligatory picnic quiche will find a firm friend in a wheat beer. Humus is also well partnered by wheat beers, where the beers soft sweetness will balance acidity and saltiness. Germany and Belgium have brewed beers using wheat for centuries and their versions (weiss and wit respectively) are the most readily available.
Pale ales, including bitters, IPAs and golden ales, are also worthy additions to a summertime picnic. All are superb accompaniments to lots of different cheese, and what’s a picnic without cheese? Then there’s the citrus notes in these beers that complements chicken and fish really well. Pale ales, IPAs and bitters are excellent with darker meats, possessing the flavour intensity to match up to the more robust flavours in the food, but with a firm bitterness that will cut through texture and flavour.