Of Beer & Food

by: BeerAdvocate on 04-03-2002
There seems to be something missing for us when beer is not incorporated with food, in either cooking or pairing with a meal. We still have very fond memories of when our Mom would stew a crock-pot of “Beer Beanie Weenies" for the PTA or Boy Scout potluck meetings—a mixture of baked beans, sliced all beef frankfurters, ketchup, mustard, onions, a touch of molasses and, of course, beer. From there we quickly matured and craved the taste of beer, spending summers helping at the grill where we would douse the flaming meat with beer and beg for sips. A half glass of Coors Original at the dinner table in our early teen years was also not uncommon for us—we were quite lucky to have beer as part of our lives from an early age.

The path of beer was made clear with the occasional Passover at a friend’s house, and then annually at our step-grandmother’s house, where wine, particularly Manishevitz, proved to be evil in many ways. Nothing like a couple of teen heathen atheist non-Jewish brothers getting drunk off that sweet hooch-style wine, whilst our eyes glazed over during prayer readings and we listened uncomfortably to the words of wisdom bellowed by our step-uncle, the Rabbi. Then there was the singing in Hebrew … not a pretty sight to say the least and the refrain from Dayenu still taunts us with its oddly enjoyable and repeatable bounce.

Being that beer, to us, was acceptable at the dinner table and ideal to cook with, we obviously carried this acceptance with us over the years. Now we’re at the point, and have been for many years, where we will not bother with restaurants that don’t serve beer, or at least have a “bring your own" policy – a lesson taught to us by our father, who did the same to the displeasure of everyone but us. We’ve even learned through experience that beer is, without a doubt, the perfect accompaniment to literally every cuisine, even more so than most wines, which tend to overwhelm the palate rather than complement the food—the odd glass on its own is another story, however.

There are multitudes of pairing variables when looking at the numerous beer styles—too many to list but to give you an example: compared to beer, wine is more or less black and white while beer is the entire color spectrum in-between. And, rather than making snobbish statements like this beer must be paired with this meal, we’ll give you some basic guidelines that you can either play with, or ignore, and let your palate do the deciding.

  • General rule of thumb: the more hop bitterness the beer has, the heartier or livelier the meal needs to be to hold its own. Don’t overwhelm your palate or meal and ruin what the chef was trying to achieve.

  • Another general rule is keep sweet with sweet, and tart with tart. Try to keep your beer sweeter or tarter than the sweet or tart food on the plate. There are exceptions, like pairing drier robust beers with sweet chocolates.

  • Throw all of the rules out the window and experiment with contrasting and complimentary pairings. Match foods with complimentary flavors, or try contrasting them and create a slew of unique results.

  • For those of you who are bound to the wine pairing school of thought, think of ale as red wine and lager as white wine. Hoppy beers can also be used in place of a pairing that calls for an acidic wine. Though it honestly doesn’t matter, these tips might help you to convert your taste buds over to beer—or those of a friend—over to beer.

  • If someone attempts to tell you how to pair, tell them to go to hell. Taste is very subjective and what works for one person might not work for another. If it tastes good to you, then go for it. However, also be open to suggestions, as these tend to come with some knowledge and possible palate enlightenment.

    Peter LaFrance, freelance writer and author of “Cooking & Eating with Beer”, hosted one of the last beer dinners we attended at Jacob Wirth’s Restaurant (Boston, MA). All of the beers were from importer Labatt USA and Jacob Wirth’s is a well-known German influenced restaurant, though lately they’ve been spreading their culinary wing into other Euro and American cuisines. Some of the highlights from this six-course meal were Leffe Beer Glazed Beef Short Ribs served over Cheddar White Polenta and Wild Mushroom Ragout, this was paired by a sample of the beer it was cooked with, Leffe Blond, and a beer to match the rib’s richness, Tremont Ale. The lightly alcoholic, hoppy and slightly spicy phenolic Leffe Blond played well with both the polenta and the sweet fatty flavours of the ribs. Tremont Ale with its bigger and bolder hop character held up very well with the beer and mushroom flavours, and even helped to clean the taste buds for the next bite.

    The course that used maltier and subtler beers was the Tempura Ale Battered Fried New England Cod served with Cinnamon Scented Noodles with a side of Wilted Baby Spinach and Ginger Soy Glaze. Bass Ale and Boddingtons’s Pub Ale were the picks, and the sweeter side of these beers seemed to cradle the fluffy beer battered cod, while their light bitterness melded well with the sweetness of the noodles.

    There are many books out there that talk about beer and food, but in our opinion Peter LaFrance does it up the best in his “Cooking & Eating with Beer”. Another recommend book is “A Taste for Beer” by Stephen Beaumont, who gives new meaning on the subject of beer and food by helping you to appreciate beer as a whole.

    Hopefully we, as well as the authors of these enlightening books, can help turn the world’s taste buds from the norm in food pairing (wine) and on to the fact that beer pairs better with food. Cheers!
  • © BeerAdvocate.com, Inc. All rights reserved.