Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Navigating the dinner table with your favorite cup of cheer: Beer

While a traditional table setting usually includes a wine glass and NOT a pint glass, I say put down that tepid $10 chardonnay and challenge your taste buds by pairing beer with your holiday meal this year.

Beer is often revered as less classy in formal settings, but recently there has been a shift in the culinary world in regards to craft brews. Yes, sipping a can of bud heavy at any dinner table would be appalling, but enjoying a delicious craft brew from a frosty glass with your holiday meal deserves a righteous high five in my book.

Many chefs and cooks would also argue that beer pairs better with more foods than its vino counterpart, which can often be too acidic and overpowering for most proteins and cheeses. With beer there is an expansive variety of flavor profiles to choose from to create delicious pairings. So let’s drop the stereotype and move forward shall we? It’s nearly 2012.

The first rule in any food/beverage pairing is always, there are no rules. Have fun, experiment and bring friends into the mix to succeed and fail along with you. If you find an unorthodox combination that you think we should know about please share! We want in on the goodness.

Here are some suggestions from Beer411 to get you started.

If you are familiar with wine pairings, beer pairings work the same way. You want to match the level of intensity of the food with the intensity of the beer. An assertive meal needs a beer to match and a lighter fare should not be overpowered by the brew you are enjoying it with. Keep the flavors even keeled to complement each other by finding similar characteristics; sweet with sweet, heavy with heavy and light with light.

I plucked this helpful guide from Epicurious to help you transition from wine to beer.

Light Body
Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Pinot Grigio
Beers: Lager, Pilsner, Wheat

Medium Body
Wines: Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah
Beers: Ale, IPA, Bock

Heavy Body
Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Oaky Chardonnay
Beers: Stout, Porter, Barleywine

Also if you are coursing your beer selections work from lightest to heaviest so you don’t blow out your palate and appetite.

Some beer-food-pairing enthusiasts work in a “ying and yang” fashion while making their combinations, meaning a super spicy dish might work well with a fruity ale to cut some of the heat, while others fight fire with fire and use the power of a bock to keep the spice in its place.

I read in multiple places that highly carbonated beers help to cut grease and fat in fried food dishes and can keep your palate refreshed while eating. Honestly, the possibilities are endless!

Recently, I had dinner at a friend’s and paired beer with each course. I was very pleased with my work and it was fun to get the reactions from all the guests who are normally dinner wine drinkers. I stayed with beers that I know and love and could drink anytime. I think that is sound advice for any novice attempting to create a beer pairing.

This is what went down:

Appetizer - Cheese plate of creamy goat, a stilton blue and Jarlsberg Swiss cheese
Pairing - Opa Opa Belgian White
Results – Cheese and wheat love each other, it’s a fact. As suspected the Opa Opa went best with the tangy goat cheese, then the blue and lastly the Swiss. Opa Opa’s white ale is one of my favorites. It’s well brewed, citrusy, light and refreshing, a perfect first course.

Main course – Roast beef, mushroom gravy, garlic mash potatoes and green bean almondine
Pairing - Ellie’s Brown Ale
Results – This is a perfect fall/winter beer. It has a well balanced amount of malt and hops and plays nice with almost anything thing that I have eaten with it. It has a nutty, butteryness that I knew would play well off of the mash potatoes and mushrooms in the gravy. It inspired me to try making gravy with beer instead of wine next time – it works in stew right? Another homerun, I must say.

Dessert – Apple crisp with vanilla bean ice cream (OUCH so full!!)
Pairing – Rogue’s Chocolate Stout
Results – The oaty, bitter-sweet finish of the chocolate stout was delicious next to the sweet coldness of the ice cream and warm apples. I think dessert is probably the easiest pairing to make so if you are fearful start here … or just drink your dessert, which I do often anyway.

All in all a great evening of food, beer and conversation.
For more food pairing ideas check out:

Eat, drink and be Merry - Happy Holidays!

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