PAIRING BEER WITH FOODS – A GUIDE
We’ve long looked at the idea of pairing wine with foods. Regardless of the level of quality of the wine and food, the prospect of finding a foodie match to any wine seems to be both romantic and a task worthy of praise. The subtle nuances of both wine and cuisine meeting at just the right point, can bring a dining experience to new heights. But can this be achieved with beer? Of course it can, even with foods that may not necessarily be considered “fine dining”. Sure, a fine quality sausage prepared with care and style can marry quite well with a unique brew to create a long lasting culinary memory. And I know that pub food and a nice cold beer seems like the perfect match, which it is, but there are many more options available than what has been traditionally served.
In this feature we will explore beers that can be paired with full courses as well as many that may be considered side dishes much of the time. We’ll find that some of the food categories can be paired with more than one style. Let’s look at some of these and expand our culinary horizons…
Grains (Rice i.e. Wild, Brown, Arborio, Farro, Polenta) – First off, let’s look at pairings with grains. Not usually thought of as a main dish, but perhaps consider a Spanish paella or a creamy Italian risotto accented with a spice and herb coated sausage. Got ya thinkin now don’t I? These both pair very well with an amber lager, such as Samuel Adams Boston Lager or of course, a German style pilsner.
Beans or Legumes – Beans rarely act as a primary dish, but can serve as a vital “partner” to a protein such as a white fish like halibut or cod. Be sure not to go overboard when prepping the fish (steer clear of the creamy, buttery garlic) thus overpower the pairing. Maybe grilled with herbs and olive oil and some pole beans. Then pair it with an English Brown Ale or a Hefeweizen.
Shellfish (Clams, Scallops, Crab, Lobster) – What better way to celebrate with shrimp or scallops on the bbq at the beach, than with an easy to carry beer. Let’s be honest, hauling around bottles of Chardonnay and finding a way to keep them cool is a pain in the ass. Some bottles of Hefeweizen or even Saison, can help accentuate the briny sweetness of shellfish and add a whole new dimension to a beach cookout.
Rich Meats (Steak/Lamb) – I need to be honest here, I may have a beer as I’m cooking my steak, but when it comes to consuming time, I’m most likely cracking open a cab or peppery zinfandel…that’s just my preference. However, if you fire up the bbq and want to pair a beer with your ribeye…grill up some carrots, parsnips or some other root veggie and find yourself a Belgian Flanders. You’ll be glad you did.
Game Bird / Grains (Duck, Quail, Wild Rice, Quinoa, Farro) – This is one of those great times where you can put together an awesome meal and pair it with a readily available beer. Been putting off cooking duck for the first time? What a wuss! Just prep some duck breasts with herbs and spices and marinate in olive oil for awhile (yea, thats all there is to it) Then cook it forever, at like 250 degrees and watch that fat just ooze out of that bird. Pair that with wild rice or farro and some earthy veggies. Mushrooms perhaps? Delicious…The beer for this? A classic Pale Ale such as Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. Your dinner will be game (game..get it?), set, match.
Cheese (Brie, Gouda, Aged Cheddar, Bleu, Mozzarella) – These fall more into charcuterie tray fare, but definitely deserve a proper pairing. Chardonnay is a pretty classic go to in these times, but I like a nice Belgian beer here, either a Tripel or Ale. You’ll find that though similar to the ales. the Tripels usually pump up the ABV to “happy” levels.
Braised Meats (Beef Short Ribs, Pork Shoulder) / Chocolates ( 50% – 60% Cacao) – I know it seems a bit odd that beers that work well with braised short ribs pair with dark chocolate as well, but it does. Dinner and desert and a couple of cases of beer and you’re done. Though I would go with the Bock for dinner and maybe the Porter or even a Stout with the chocolate (see desert pairing below for more Porter pairings)
Pork (Sausage, Tenderloin, Terrine) – Here’s the area most folks are comfortable with. Sausage, any kind of sausage, will pair with most beers. Its the spiciness in the sausage combined with the fat that just meshes…ohhh so well. However, other types of pork will work as well. For instance, a grilled tenderloin that has been grilled or roasted and then cut into medallions pairs amazingly well with an IPA or Belgian Dubbel. Prost! you animals…
Rich Deserts (Cheesecake, Ice Cream, Crème Brulee, Mousse Cakes, Brownies) – This is actually going to take a little work on your part. As most deserts fall into 3 categories, Chocolate, Creamy and Fruity, you’re going to need to find a beer that works within their parameters. Barley Wine will work well with many of the creamy deserts as will the Lambic, which will add a fruity element to the proceedings. For heavier chocolate deserts I like to go with an Imperial Stout, there is nothing like a nap after that pairing. As far as fruit, this can vary depending on the type of fruit. Beers brewed with rice will pair very nicely with tart deserts such as berries.
Now this by no means is a list that can not be deviated from. It is here mainly as a guide as you venture into possibly uncharted territory. Experiment a little. Try things out. If you find something works for you let me know in the comments for this post. I love trying new things.