Brussels beer x Brussels food face-off #2 // Mitraillette

Welcome to the second entry in a series pairing Brussels culinary classics with beers brewed in Brussels. For the first food and beer face-off, you can read how Brasserie En Stoemelings’ Curieuse Neus bested a Brasserie de la Senne Jambe-de-Bois in a pairing with Stoemp and pork sausage.

 It’s taken until 2018, but there’s now a variety of beer being produced in the city, including but expanding from the spontaneous fermentation beers of Brasserie Cantillon and the hoppy ales of Brasserie de la Senne to IPA, porters, tripels, witbiers, and more.  

To stress test this variety, instead of choosing one beer with one dish, we’re going to go about this a little differently – two beers will be selected on the basis that whatever the style of the beers chosen, they should pair well with a particular dish.

Each dish chosen for the series originates or has a long-standing connection to Brussels. Some of them are recognisable Brussels exports – pralines or fries – whereas others are more local peculiarities – think pottekeis or pain a la greque.

The only rules are: the beer has to have been brewed in one of Brussels’ 19 communes, and the dish has to have a verifiable link to the city.

In this round: the mighty Mitraillette paired with Nanobrasserie L’Ermitage Lanterne and Brasserie En Stoemelings Hoppy Madame

The “dish”

Take one outsized French baguette and slice it in half. Add in meat – in Brussels, this can mean anything from lamb kebab, to merguez, kofte, and chicken; according to the French Wikipedia entry, quite literally any meat you can imagine. Suffocate this with lashings of salad bar ingredients, followed by a sauce – again, the gamut runs from mayonnaise, the ur-Belgian condiment, to cocktail, garlic, and your basic ketchup. And then, the coup de grâce: a trowel of fries bunged in on top, spilling out from the bread all over a woefully insufficient plastic food tray. This glorious monstrosity is the Mitraillette – a staple of Brussels chippies and kebab shops, and a late-night student gut-filler nec plus ultra.

Mitraillette is the French name for a type of sub-machine gun. No one quite knows why, but since its invention in Brussels it has slipped its moorings and spread to the rest of the country and into France, where they variously call it an americain (northern France), a special (francophone central Belgium) or a routier (Liege). It started out as a pre- and post-World War II sandwich of fries between two slices of bread until baguettes superseded the humble bread loaf in the 1960s and 1970. Later the mitraillette evolved to soak up the multicultural influence of inner-city Brussels snack bars, replacing deep-fried frikandel sausage with an altogether more exotic array of meats and vegetarian options.

The “recipe”

The mitraillette chosen for this beer and food pairing was picked up at a local snack bar on Place Simonis, in the shadow of Brussels’ monumental Koekelberg basilica. It was made with pitta meat, mayonnaise, along with tomatoes, red cabbage, lettuce, sweetcorn, and onions.

It’s quite fatty and rich, though the mayonnaise, raw onions and cabbage provide some freshness and acidity. A brutish mess of a meal, it needs a beer with some heft to cut through the carbohydrates; something effervescent to cut through the sheer density of bread and fries.  

The beers

Lanterne is Nanobrasserie L’Ermitage’s original and flagship beer. A 5.5% ABV IPA brewed with American hops, it was originally brewed in a basement in Ixelles and then at Brasserie de Bastogne until the brewery opened their own production site in Anderlecht. Described as light and dry by the brewery, Lanterne gives off an aroma of grapefruit and mango, alongside an undertone of resinous pine – fairly typical American hop profile. That grapefruit and pine continue through the taste, accompanied by some herbal, green hop bitterness. On the finish at the back of the throat it’s a little long and sticky. It’s light in the mouth and moderately fizzy. The bitterness and the citrus fruits could work well in cutting through some of the stodge of the double hit of carbohydrates, and find some commonalities with some of the fresh salad.

Hoppy Madame, a 4% hoppy Belgian witbier, is part of the refreshed core range of Brasserie En Stoemelings (winner of the first foodpairing face-off). It looks and smells as a witbier should, if a little less cloudy – pale straw with a strong foamy head, and lemony, citrusy almost verging on soapy, even a bit peppery. Pepper is there ever-so-slightly in the flavour too, featuring alongside more prominent coriander, lemon-lime, and grapefruit. Overall, the Hoppy Madame is light on the palate, with a strong fizz and a light finish. That strong carbonation should help to cleanse the palate of the fat and, like the Lanterne, the citrus tones should pair with some of the fresher ingredients in the mitraillette and counterbalance some of the caramelized meat flavours.

The pairings

The lightness of the Hoppy Madame does it no favours in the end against the mitraillette, with the strong carbonation failing to compensate for the thinner body and lower content of the witbier. It’s not a total failure, as the soft fruit flavours to contrqst well with the meat, and complement some of the acidity of the sauce and the tomato.

On the other hand, the Lanterne has just enough extra body to stand up to all those contrasting flavors, with the zestiness of the grapefruit pairing slightly better with the mayonnaise and and other salad ingredients. The very slightly malty-caramel touch in the Lanterne also complements the roast of the pitta meat., and an extra bit of sweetness accentuates the onions and the sweetcorn. Its strong carbonation helps to clean the palate.  

Final Score

On the whole, there is just more going on with the Lanterne, giving it different ways to play off the different elements of the mitraillette. Both beers are well-matched in their level of carbonation, but the lighter Hoppy Madame misses just a little bit of heft compared to that of the Lanterne IPA. It’s not a bad beer, it’s just a little too delicate for this assignment. The Lanterne is just about able to mix it with those heavy-duty flavours and textures.

We have a winner

Mitraillette with Nanobrasserie L’Ermitage Lanterne.

The Next Round

Neuhaus dark chocolate pralines, paired with Nanobrasserie L'Ermitage Noire du Midi and Brasserie Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic Bio.