Throughout the country small batch brewers are turning out some of the most delicious deep flavored brews imaginable. Serious “beer nerds” want to try every kind of beer they can find and will go to great lengths to get a schooner of the newest limited edition batch from their favorite brew master. Since food and beer go together so well it seems natural for them to be served together and carefully paired much in the way you would pair with wine.
Choosing the best beer to go with a meal is a particular skill that will take lots of practice. The good news is that eating and drinking beer is a wonderful experience and therefore the “practice” is relatively painless. When shopping around for beer you might want to check out your local tap houses, beer dinner events, beer release parties or even take a brewery tour or two. Many tap houses will allow you to taste many kinds of beer for cheap or even free until you find your favorite. It’s important to remember to tip appropriately and treat the staff kindly (that is if you want them to keep pouring).
This week, I thought I would share some tips and ideas to help when pairing food with beer. I recommend trusting your instincts and starting with something that you know and love. If you don’t love the beer and food you are serving there is a great possibility your guests will know. So above all relax and do what makes you happy, show them what you like and chances are they will like it too.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Taste everything – Prior to selecting a beer you should taste several and pick beer(s) that you genuinely like and want to cook with/drink. Here’s a good reference for more information: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/101/taste
2. Invite friends – No one should drink alone, so bring along a friend or two in the tasting process. They might pick up on nuances and flavors in the beer that you missed, there is no shame in utilizing the palates of other for the greater good.
3. Go seasonal – chances are you will be making dishes that match the season. The beers you choose should also reflect this. For instance in the summer pick lighter beers, some common summer beers include Hefeweizen, Pilsner, Belgium white beers, and fruit infused beers.
4. Look for a theme – Many beers will have back ground flavors such as citrus, spices, or even herbs. If you notice that the beer you are tasting has grapefruit notes coming through try using citrus in your dish or things that taste good with it. This will help tie the dish to the beer and create layers of flavor.
5. Keep it real – Price often correlates with the quality of beer but this may not always be the case. There are plenty of inexpensive brews out there that might go well with your meal. The best thing to do is try a variety of beers and keep track of the ones you really like.
6. Do your homework – When presenting your pairings to your guests, be sure to know about them. A little history on the brewery, a profile of flavors or what they might be looking for when tasting will not only give you a chance to show off your new skills but brings everyone together. I recommend explaining the beer first and allowing everyone to taste it, then the dish that pairs.
7. Relate beer to wine – Pairing beer can be similar to pairing wine. Lagers tend to be lighter and more delicate similarly to a white wine, where ales are fruity, floral and tend to lend themselves to more robust flavors and act the part of a red wine such as Merlot.
Once you have decided what you are making and the beer(s) that will pair with each course, relax and focus on the food. At this point the beer should do its thing and mingle with your cuisine to create a wonderful dining experience. Cheers!
Here are some great beer tasting events:
Tuesday, September 10
Cape Ann Beer Dinner – Cambridge, Massachusetts Cambridge Common is a comfy, welcoming neighborhood restaurant offering celebrated comfort food, huge portions, cheap prices, and a full bar with 30 beers on tap (well, 31 when the Cask is on), 16 of which rotate like nobody’s business, always one organic brew and a kick-a** bottle or two. Often the first spot in New England to introduce the latest and greatest microbrews, Cambridge Common has been referred to by the Alstrom Bros (a.k.a. the Beer Advocates) as “our allies in the war on crap beer.” This special beer dinner’s menu will start with the “Welcome Brew” Cape Ann Pre-Dawn Saison. Then guests will enjoy steamed mussels paired with Fisherman’s Bavarian Wheat. Dinner choices include a Fisherman’s Platter with clams, cod & calamari, paired with Fisherman’s Dead Eye Double IPA, barbecue steak tips paired with Fisherman’s Eclipes or a grilled portabello salad paired with Fisherman’s Pick Ale. Dessert will be a homemade warm peach cobbler paired with Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout.
Dinner with Lancaster Brewing Company at Farmers Fishers Bakers – Washington D.C. Join Farmers Fishers Bakers for their monthly beer dinner this coming Tuesday, featuring a five-course tasting menu paired with beers from Lancaster Brewing Company. Executive Chef Joe Goetze has created a special menu of seasonally inspired dishes that will be served alongside five craft beers from one of Pennsylvania’s top breweries. The restaurant’s Beverage Director Jon Arroyo and brewers from Lancaster will also be in attendance to provide tasting notes and insight into the evening’s pairings.
Friday, September 13
Wheels of Firestone Beer Pairing Dinner at Culina Modern Italian – Los Angeles, California Join Culina Modern Italian restaurant for a celebration of one of the world’s top craft breweries: Firestone Walker. This four course dinner takes place next Friday at 7:30pm in the Private Dining Room at Culina, Modern Italian restaurant, located in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. Firestone Walker’s Brewmaster has selected four unique offerings to pair with Culina Modern’s signature crudo scallops, pork sausage, braised short ribs and of course, dessert. Plus, Firestone will be providing a SECRET tasting of a beer that BeerAdvocate judges awarded a perfect ‘100’ score. Don’t miss this! Reserve your seat early and enjoy this beer-lover’s dream evening!
Wednesday, September 18
Ballast Point Beer Dinner – Encinitas, California This special beer-centric dinner at Encinitas’ Union Kitchen & Tap will feature Kummamoto oysters paired with Barmy Honey Apricot Ale, seared hamachi paired with Fathom India Pale Lager, skate and sea urchin paired with Sculpin India Pale Ale and Ras el Hanout dusted venison paired with Indra Kunindra Export Stout. This will all be finished with a delicious dessert of Bourbon Molasses Gelato, Marcona Almond Butter & Smoked Berry Cotton Candy paired with Victory @ Sea Imperial Porter.
Thursday, September 19
Sycamore Odell Brewing Beer Dinner – Columbia, Missouri Arrive at 6 pm and grab your first beer at the bar. You can now hang at the bar for a few minutes, meet other attendees, chat with the brewer/brewery rep., or grab a seat one of the tables. Sycamore sets three large tables for all of the guests to share, so you will likely be next to a stranger, who, if the dinner is a success, will at least be an acquaintance, if not a friend, by the time you leave. They serve four courses, each paired with a different beer. You can expect the event to officially be over by around 8:30, but again, if the dinner is successful, you might like to linger and finish off the last of the beer while hanging with friends and the brewery rep. Be careful, the brewer/rep is a trained professional, and can drink beer all night and never get drunk…this is very difficult for the rest of us. Please be safe.