Sunday, May 16, 2010

Food with Beer

Most of the articles, books, posts I read about beer pairings with food the authors seem to always take the perspective of "this ain't wine". While this is true, and necessary given the dominance of wine marketing, it's a bit aggressive and adversarial. I think a key to staying in business is following the motto, "don't piss off the dudes with the most money". We see now that the big 3 (Bud, Miller, Coors) are attacking the craft market scene, it's only a matter of time before wine will do the same thing. Don't wake a sleeping giant, I say. Still, it may be too late for that. So...

Wine is good with some food, but definitely not most, and not nearly as much as the Wine people suggest. A nice Cabernet Sauvignon with steak is a nice pairing. But wine has limits. Any food with herbal, earthy, or spice flavors will be hard pressed to find a good matching wine. Same is true with ‘thicker’ foods, like ice cream and cheese. Red wine and cheese do not pair, and few white wines will pair nicely. Next time you go to a wine & cheese party, bring a beer. Of course, different cheeses require different beer. The point here is not to limit food pairings to just wine, and doing so restricts delicious experiences and could ruin others. No wine goes well with spice.

Beer is made with the same ingredients that are found in food. Grains, fruit, yeast, coffee, chocolate, etc, along with those ingredients that our food eats (e.g. cows and pigs eat grain). Not many eat grapes. Beer is also more flexible that wine. The brewmaster can pick and combine ingredients to produce a specific taste. The vintner takes what he/she is given by nature and is quite constricted to what can be produced. Additionally, beer has carbonation, which acts as a palate cleanser and a liquid knife to cut through the gooey foods—like cheese.

Still, there’s no real concrete guideline in beer/food pairing. Dark meat with dark beer isn’t always the case. Seasonings, sauces, cooking method and side dishes all play a part. Far be it from me to list all of the possibilities, and would suggest two books (at least) for more pairing information. Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer, and Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table. The latter is more detailed, while the former is a great introduction and easy to follow.

So, to make a long post not so short, look into beer as a better alternative to wine when pairing with food. Some combinations are outstanding (Chocolate stout and a scoop of vanilla ice cream). For me, I only pair certain meals with beer, otherwise I tend to pick up a Pepsi. Plus, I’m still learning….