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Monday, April 13, 2009

Food & Beer Pairings

Since the ancient Romans first undid their sandals, stomped grapes, and aged the juice in oak barrels to produce wines, people understood how well wine went with foods. Volumes have been written about wine & food pairings and people have been experimenting for centuries.
But beer? Well, that malty stepsister has often been reduced to consumption with lesser foods… & peanuts, beer & hotdogs, beer & pizza. Many fine restaurants have been dominated by wine. Not anymore!
Move over red and white, today there is room for brown!

As breweries throughout the world have increased exportation of their fine brews and this country’s hundreds of microbreweries have flourished, more beer & food pairings are becoming extremely popular.
Restaurant chefs and home cooks are making the discovery that beer’s flavor spectrum – from chocolaty stouts to bitter IPAs – combine with its palate-cleansing carbonation and low acidity - to become perfect matches for food.
Creative cooks are using beer as both an ingredient in their recipes and as an accompaniment to their dishes.
Beer can be incorporated, as you would add spices to a dish. Instead of thyme or oregano, a bit of a bitter IPA will give the sauce a new twist. A dark stout will add an incredible depth of flavor to stews, chilies or gravies.

To accompany meals, use seasonal ingredients and match them with seasonal beers. There are several approaches here. We can try and complement the flavor – for instance, a mango salsa over a delicate fish could be accompanied by a hefeweizen. Or you may want to contrast flavors by serving a spicy Thai dish, for example, with a super-hoppy IPA.

As a t-shirt I recently spied says, "Life is simply too short to drink bad beer." To those who say they don't like the taste of beer, I say: You simply haven't tasted the right one yet!

Multi-course beer pairing dinners now take place in restaurants throughout the country. These events go far beyond traditional pub grub. Several area establishments are adding these events as well.

Locally, The Farmhouse Restaurant, Emmaus, has offered beer tasting dinners for several years. Chef Michael Adams creates three farm-to-table courses paired with different beers on the Third Thursday of each month.

This Thursday’s event, “For the Love of Chimay,” will feature the three versions of the Belgium ale paired with a variety of foods. For reservations and information you can visit

The most recent edition of one of my favorite magazines, Imbibe, features a very good article about beer and food and offers the following tips for beer-pairings dinners. The following list was compiled by Chef Sean Paxton.
1. Beer Is an ingredient. “You can use beer just like you would oregano or thyme, to add flavor,” Paxton says. “Bitter IPAs and sweet barleywines can be vital to any recipe.” 2. Tweak the standards. “Sake and sushi is an amazing combination, but so is sushi with a crisp pilsner or lager,” Paxton says. “Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm.”

3. Stick to beers you like. “Trust your taste buds. If you don’t like a sour, complex lambic, don’t put it on the menu.” 4. Eat and drink seasonally. “Use seasonal ingredients and match them to seasonal beers,” Paxton urges. “Dark, rich beers work well with stews and braised meats for a reason.”

5. Complement and contrast. “With beer pairings, you either want to complement the flavor (like a mango salsa over fish with hefeweizen) or contrast it by serving a super-hoppy IPA with spicy Thai.”

6. Make a scene. “When you design a dinner, think about how you can make it interesting,” Paxton says. “Make a quirky appetizer or use cool stemware or keep the menu secret. The point of the dinner is to learn, have fun and inspire people.”

7. The more the merrier. Invite as many people as you can feed, Paxton suggests. “Our society has gotten so used to eating in front of a TV. A beer-pairing dinner is an organic way to gather a likeminded community.”

8. Begin mild, end big. “Start with lighter, simpler beers and move up to stronger, more complex beers,” Paxton says. “If you kick off dinner with an imperial stout, you’ll blow out people’s palates.”

9. Have a theme. “Organize your beer dinner around a single brewery or perhaps a country. It serves as a unifying principle you can build around.”

10. Steady the course. “A three-course dinner can be just as rewarding as a 10-course dinner,” Paxton says. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and feel free to keep the recipes simple.”

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