Beer and Food pairing hints

Mike Reintz and Thomas Sords’ Enlightenment report of a presentation by Pam Leifer

We started off talking about food tastes as a whole and what to think about when planning menus around beer. The idea is to find balance with give and take on both sides (like a good marriage!). Think about why you don’t naturally put certain foods together, like poached salmon and spicy jalapeno poppers or a heavy BBQ sauce. The salmon would be lost and overwhelmed. The same goes for beer pairing.

Basic Rules/Hints for making good beer pairing choices:

1. Seasonality – Lighter, lower alcohol beer in summer pairs well with lighter, fresher dishes while heavier, darker, higher alcohol beer pairs well with meaty stews and hearty dishes served in winter. No wonder why Saison, Witbier and Blond Ales are prominent in summer months while Stouts, Imperial IPAs and Porters are popular in winter.

2. Commonality – Find flavors that complement each other. Smoky beer with smoky food, herbal beer with herbal foods. Good examples are a Belgian Dubbel with pork BBQ, Scotch Ale with smoked salmon, Witbier with herbal cheese. All of these share the same basic characteristics with the foods they are paired with.

3. Intensity – Intensity in food would be deep rich flavors. Intensity in beer would be high alcohol, smoke, maltiness, hoppiness (bitterness). Intense beer styles can stand up to intense food styles, but be careful that they don’t clash or cancel each other out. An example would be pairing an IPA with a very spicy Mexican dish. They are both intense, but the bitterness of the IPA will increase the heat of the spice in the food. So you may cancel out the flavors of both by increasing the heat factor.

4. Opposites – We talked about commonality but opposites can also pair well by complimenting each other’s characteristics. A bitter IPA can cut thru the sweetness of a super sweet dessert or round out the flavor of a rich cheese. A soft, fruity Witbier can round out the oiliness of salmon or mussels and an Oktoberfest or Vienna Lager can calm spicy foods.

5. Cooking Style – Cooking style will bring out characteristics in food that are paralleled in beer. Dark roasted meats go well with the roastiness of a Dry Stout. Lightly sautéed vegetables pair well with the clean, light flavor of a Kölsch or Blond Ale.

6. What do you like – Throw out the “rules” and pair what you like. Some people like to turn up the heat in spicy foods by pairing with an IPA. The sweetness of a Barleywine will elevate the sugar in a sweet dessert, good for some people but not for others.

We paired the following cheeses and beer: Brie with Hefeweizen, Gorgonzola with IPA, & Aged Cheddar with Dry Stout. Tasters were blown away by the way the Hefeweizen rounded out the Brie and the Brie accentuated the clean taste of the beer. IPA with Gorgonzola was a surprise to everyone at how nicely the two rounded each other out.

We paired the following chocolate and beer: Dark chocolate almonds with Brown Ale, bittersweet chocolate with a Belgian Dark Strong, & Hershey’s milk chocolate, with IPA. Tasters loved the Belgian with the dark chocolate, and the IPA with the sweet milk chocolate was the biggest surprise in perfect pairing