It is a common misconception in the minds of the planet’s population that when you are enjoying a nice evening of fine dining at your favorite bistro, the first thing you should reach for when it comes to ordering your drinks is the wine list.
You would be wrong.
All across the the country, and San Diego in particular, you can find amazing beer pairing dinners at restaurants. To be clear we aren’t talking about beer with pizza or hamburgers. We’re talking about gourmet quality dishes served up by culinary experts with a dazzling array of different beer styles and flavors, each one designed to bring something new to your meal in ways you weren’t expecting.
I first started to dabble my toe in the waters of beer pairings after reading through Randy Mosher’s “Tasting Beer” which is essential reading for any craft beer enthusiast. However, it wasn’t until my recent opportunity to learn directly from Stone Brewing’s Master of Beer Pairings and official Cicerone and Sommelier, “Dr.” Bill Sysak, that I started to see all the potential that beer pairings had to offer.
What I’m about to share is all information that is readily available from both Mr. Mosher’s book and “Dr.” Sysak’s section in “The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.” book. I will not be laying down information on how to construct a pairing menu. While I find the topic endlessly fun, I would humbly refer you to the books I have already mentioned by true masters at pairing as well as Garrett Oliver’s “The Brewmaster’s Table.”
The information I want to share is just to open your eyes and get you curious about having a craft beer adventure at your dinner table.
Craft Beer has a versatility in food pairing that wine doesn’t have. This is just scratching the surface but will hopefully get you thinking in the right direction.
First, beer has carbonation which can act as a palate cleanser. Giving a sip of beer a quick swish around your mouth will scrub your palate clean help ensure each bite of food is a great as the first.
Secondly, malt can make your tasting experience into something truly exceptional. This has mostly to due with the caramelization of malts matching well with what is called the Maillard effect from grilling and roasting meats. Malts will also interact with the heat from spices on your meal. Perhaps you added a little too much habanero to your glaze and the heat is too much to handle. Match it up with a particularly malty beer and all the sweetness from the malt will cut into that heat and cool down the fires. This may or may not have happened to me.
Third, hops. Hops can play a very interesting role in your meal. The bitter edge can help bring balance to fatty dishes while helping to spread the flavors around your entire palate. Try it with Carrot Cake! Another aspect of hops is what it can do to your spicy dishes – hops will bring spicy dishes alive. The hops might take a little edge (but not much) off the initial heat but it’s going to help accentuate all the flavors of that spice and give you a more well-rounded tasting experience. However, if you don’t want the heat accentuated, I’d avoid an IPA with your curry.
Fourth is where we come to consider all the specialty ingredients many brewers are using in their beers nowadays. Juniper, coriander, basil, peppercorn, even cucumber all these flavors are going to help give you a unique experience with your meal. Find something that you think will play nicely off your dishes.
Fifth and final is the yeast. We all know that different strains of yeast provide a beer with an assortment of different flavors. Bavarian yeast is like cloves, Belgian yeast is fruity with subtle spice, ale yeast tends to have citrus qualities, and you get the idea.
The point being is that with all the different beers at your finger tips you could easily make every meal a truly unique and memorable experience. And the best part is, that there really aren’t any hard and fast rules that you must abide by. As long as you are having fun and enjoying what you eat and drink you will have a successful craft beer pairing dinner. And don’t just limit yourself to full meals. Craft Beer plays remarkably well with cheeses and chocolates as well.
Some friends and I will be having a cheese and chocolate pairingthis weekend. Pictures and results are sure to follow. If you’ve had a memorable beer pairing, I’d love to hear about it.