Man does not live by beer alone- pairing beer with food
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish
Remember the first time you had a beer together with a slice of pizza? At the time, wasn’t that the best beer, and best slice, you had ever tasted? As is the case in the world of wine, some beers go incredibly well with certain foods. When served together, the best is brought out in both cuisine and beer.
This is not accidental. Beer evolved up with western civilization, all the way from ancient Egypt, and was a staple drink in the days when water was often unsafe. Brewing was an important and vital profession, and beer was frequently consumed with every meal.
In that sense, it would be more realistic to say that cuisine evolved in parallel with beer, and the foods we eat are heavily influenced by the flavors of the beverages that accompanied them through the ages.
Some pairings are no brainers. Belgian abbey ales and Belgian cheeses practically come out of the same farmhouse, so the sweet, musty flavor of the beers lock with the strong, creamy cheese in the most exquisite way; refined, elegant, and delicious (of course, a good Belgian also goes great with Cheez-whiz, but it’s not as impressive to your date).
Oysters and stouts are another time-honored couple, stemming from the pubs of 19th century England, in which oysters were a common snack food. The salty ocean flavor of the oysters mates well with a good stout’s roasted finish.
One style that takes this to an extreme is oyster stout: Originating on the Isle of Man, this beer in its archetypical form actually contained oysters. Today, Dogfish Head Brewing of Delaware makes an oyster stout that they filter through 300 pounds of oysters before packaging.
This may be a bit extreme for people who prefer to keep their food on the outside of their pint glass. Most folks find a dozen on the half shell and a glass of their favorite porter just as enjoyable. Much has been written about the supposed aphrodisiac qualites of the oyster, but not about the beer. So remember that when you combine the two, you’re either twice as attractive or half so.
Chefs will tell you that there’s no hard and fast rule for pairing individual beers with dishes. They try to envision the spices used in cooking, as well as the flavor of the ingredients when trying to pair food with brew. Heartier flavors may require a darker, more obtrusively flavored beer, whereas curries or spicy dishes may be best with a quenching light lager.
The point is that the process of discovering which food goes with which beer is quite an enjoyable one. You can do this in your own kitchen, or let others set it up for you at a local pairing. The Rohrbach Brewing Company regularly holds pairings, seats at which can be reserve in advance. A schedule of upcoming events can be found at http://www.rohrbachs.com. The Old Toad also runs pairings from time to time. For those into personal discovery, The Brewmaster’s Table, by Garrett Oliver, Head Brewer for the Brooklyn Brewing Company, is a tremendous resource for classic food and beer matchups.
Of course, many dishes, especially on restaurant/brewery menus, use beer as an ingredient. Rohrbach has a beef stew flavored with their Sam Patch Porter, while Buffalo’s Pearl Street Grill and Brewery makes a beer-braised pot roast. Many area restaurants also use beer in chili, and we’re all familiar with that Western New York classic: the beer-battered fish fry.
Likewise whole cookbooks have been devoted to cooking with beer. Many microbreweries publish their own, predictably self-serving tomes (place the ham in the Crock-pot. Add 3 cups STREUBEL brand PORTER…etc.), but a number of noted gourmets have also devoted pages to the subject.
Even if you’re not a beer nut, at least give it a chance. Next time you’re out at the restaurant, why not put the wine list aside and ask what’s on tap? You may discover that a certain nut brown ale ads much to the pleasure of that Kobe beef with Roquefort or lobster thermidor.
Or hell, you may just decide that it’s perfect with pizza, and that’s a match made in Heaven too.
In other beers:
• Monty’s Krown is stocking Carlsberg Elephant in bottles. The strongest beer produced by the Danish/Canadian brewery, Elephant is sweet, malty, and quite unique in flavor. It’ll also knock you on your butt if you’re not careful.
• Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewery has been making quite a name for itself in Rochester, and, unusually for a microbrewery, it’s going over well with the younger set. These guys like to release test batches to the public, gauging reaction before putting beers into general release. We just enjoyed their batch 373, a very good robust porter, at Macgregor’s Gregory Street Location.
Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.