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With the Super Bowl (just) behind us and Valentine’s Day on the way, the subject of matchups—including beer pairings—is presenting itself nearly as much as politics (thank goodness).
Put simply, beer and food are a match made in heaven …and when you get the right ones together the combination is… heavenly (eyeroll, I know, but it’s true).
Whether it was at monthly beer club tastings, bars, breweries, beer dinners, or shopping, friends and family often defer to my judgement, claiming they don’t know anything about [tasting, picking, pairing…] beers. But guess what, you do.
The bottom line is you do have to at least appreciate the beer first and foremost. But I didn’t use the L-word for a reason (and it’s not fear of commitment)—yes, there are beer styles that pair fantastically with certain foods, but if you absolutely hate stouts (and I mean hate), you’ll never truly appreciate the way they melt the rich flavors decadent dark chocolate beyond maybe a sip—so don’t force it! First you have to take your personal taste into consideration…. then try these:
- Meta (think: “‘tis the season” and/or “I’m in the mood”)
I like to start big picture when I’m choosing beer… is it a sweltering mid-summer day? (wishful thinking), a cold dreary night? A brisk winter afternoon? A sweet spring evening? All of these—plus holiday inspirations have something to do with our tastes. Just like Thanksgiving makes you think mmmm…turkey, a crisp fall hike might veer you towards a darker, nutty lager, while a day of kayaking lends itself to a light, crisp pilsner or hefeweizen.
Your mood might also affect your choice—mellow stouts and porters allow for a thoughtful night of conversation, while a sharp IPA or pale ale has higher-energy social aura.
- Down to a Science (left brain)
If you feel like beer-geeking out you can get all the information you need from a quick internet search (Beer Advocate is a tried-and-true resource and RateBeer and UnTappd have a growing following, which means plenty of opinions to choose from …and don’t forget the breweries’ pages themselves—after all they did make the beer, the brewers often have some fantastic recommendations on what to drink it with.)
Years ago a dear friend gave me Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer, which has been an invaluable reference while trying different beers. In fact, Mosher has an entire chapter devoted to Beer and Food, where he offers up some broad tasting tips before breaking down foods and beers.
- Mosher notes that B & F can either balance or emphasize each other—carbonation, alcohol and the malt character or hop bitterness balance out sweetness, fats, and that umami (multi-flavor) quality; sweetness or maltiness in beer balances acidity and spiciness in foods; and hop bitterness and spicy foods emphasize each other (uh, hello IPA and wings? yeah.)
- Commonalities: Mosher recommends using the like elements of beers and foods such as the citrusy hop aromas paired with dishes involving lemon sauces, pepper, or vinegar; nutty malt flavors matched with crusty breads, aged sausage, or nutty cheeses; spicy yeast character (like what is found in a Belgian farmhouse saison) alongside equally complex dishes such as Indian or Cajun. The wide variety of malt flavors offer options galore: caramel malt (lightest) with sauteed meats or vegetables, toasted malt with grilled or roasted meats, and roasted (darker) malt with well-aged cheese, smoked meats, or chocolate. The options go on….
“Beer gastronomy was founded on creativity and experimentation.”
- Courses: Much like what might be recommended in a flight, Mosher suggests starting off a meal with crisp, refreshing beers. Wheat beers go well with salads, while an American Pale Ale transitions to more succulent appetizers. For main courses, Mosher notes that the intensity of the beer and the food should match and that it is important to take into account not just the flavors, but the cooking methods. And lastly, for desserts, full-flavored beers supplement the rich sweetness of treats like cheesecake or fruit tarts (pair with a fruit beer), flourless chocolate cake (pair with an imperial stout), even chocolate chip cookies (pair with a brown ale), or creme brulee (pair with a double IPA).
Complete with flavor profiles, icons to link beer styles, a flavor wheel, and even recipes for cooking with beer… I can’t recommend Mosher’s book enough.
- Get Creative (right brain)
Sometimes a straight beer isn’t going to be what you’re looking for, maybe you want to add garnish (jalapenos in a resiny IPA, blueberries bobbing around in a lighter amber, cinnamon-sugared or salted rims), or perhaps even venture toward beer cocktails such as beermosas, black & tans, brass monkeys (that funky monkey—yeah it’s a thing), grog, or the increasingly popular shandy.
- Spread the love
Last but not least, remember you don’t always need a full pint… try a flight while sharing appetizers with friends or pair a sample-size (4 oz is perfect) with each course. Not only does this let you really pinpoint your beers to your food, but it lets you see the way a beer (you might not want a whole pint of) melds with a particular food and how the two accent each other’s flavors.
Because of the immense variety that comprises the beverage “beer” you have so many options… you can pair ANY food with a beer and it might make you like the beer (or the food) even more! Keep in mind that you know more than you think and base every decision on your own tastes.
base every decision on your own tastes…
As mentioned in Paradoxical Pairings, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend most of this summer outdoors. It was a pretty amazing season and kicked off with some incredible spring hiking as well… which leads us to: beer for the outdoors (or, beer au natur-ale?)
What do you look for in a trail beer? I look for portability and flavor fitting the activity…
Early this fall, after mountain biking, I returned to a Tröegs Hop Knife Harvest Ale nestled beside our car tire by a fellow rider and beer fan, crisp and refreshing with a decent hop profile to satisfy my taste buds, it was a welcome end to the ride… Earlier this year on a group ride during the hotter month of August I found a growler of Rising Tide‘s awesome Maine Island Trail Ale (MITA) shared amongst the crew to be the perfectly dry hoppy finish needed after a tough, technical ride.
Generally in the warmer months I’ve tended toward the session ales that have been growing in popularity this year, I’ve especially enjoyed Otter Creek‘s Hop Session and Founders All day IPA. I’ll also generally enjoy a good summer seasonal if it’s hot enough.
As autumn colors begin to grace the trees, fall flavors grace post-outdoor cooler… Usually a well-balanced option that’s not too malty or boozy is best for me. A good red ale, like Opa Opa’s Red Rock Amber Ale, or, if I’m lucky, a Trout River Rainbow Red Ale.
Earlier this spring on a 10-mile backpacking adventure through a feeder-canyon to the Grand Canyon I was introduced to an ultra-portable potable… stay tuned for a Bonus Pint about that next week!
For now, share your favorite trailside beers (literally and digitally):
There are many things that go so well together we often forget they aren’t natural partners… peas and carrots (sorry Forrest, aside from the freezer section of the grocery store those two veggies are far from neighborly), beer and food (the world is finally realizing these two can intertwine amazingly well), life and work…. well, that’s where I’ve been struggling—hence this disappointingly long hiatus.
Balance truly is a paradox to me (sadly both literally and figuratively). Writing can be tough to fit in the schedule once it’s not your job anymore, but beer? I was never paid for the beering, so my drinking schedules haven’t changed (whew!). There are many things beer pairs perfectly with—its forte is its flexibility—beer and food, beer and books, beer and studying, beer and a long day, beer and vacation, beer and mountain biking, beer and camping, beer and football (especially if you’re watching the Giants not live up to your expectations), beer and travel, beer and solitude, beer and friends… I could go on, but let’s cut to the chase.
Beer is awesome and fun. And the best breweries I’ve encountered have wholeheartedly embraced this concept, which is what sets them apart from the mass of micros that have appeared in all shapes, styles, and sizes.
This summer I was blessed with some truly amazing adventures (many of which you’ll read about in the forthcoming posts that I promise will continue to appear). One such adventure brought me to the heart of the Adirondack Park—a massive state park filled with a plethora of wilderness, breweries, and scenic towns. This trip in particular brought me to a rock climbing camp nestled off the side of the road and some climbing on the aptly named Beer Walls.
After a weekend of climbing, mushroom foraging, and camping with dear friends, we found ourselves reluctantly returning to civilization… albeit slowly as there is a long drive down Interstate 87 to truly exit the Adirondack Park, sometimes requiring back-road detours to break monotony. That’s where we happened on Paradox. As we drove by the rustic trailhead sign (a common sight in these parts), we both suddenly turned to each other exclaiming “did that say brewery?” and “was that a keg hanging below that sign?!”
It did and it was, so we turned around and found ourselves at Paradox Brewery. Paradox Brewery is a small, but expanding operation in Schroon Lake, New York. Open for about a year now, this low-key, rustic beer haven welcomes a constant flow of regulars (acknowledged by name by the amiable bartending “wenches”) and visitors alike, who this time of year enjoyed an outdoor tented “tasting room” complete with a wooden bar, trailer with taps, camp chairs, corn hole (or bean-bag toss, depending on your place of origin), and hand-carved bench seating surrounding a small stage area.
Indicating the taped off area of their gravel parking lot we’d stepped over as we entered, our petite, pixie-cut pourer (and wife-of-owner, Paul) Joanie noted that the brewery is in the process of expanding the current brown, log-faced former post office to add space for more fermenters and a canning line. Joanie also had plenty of insight into the beer samplers she poured for us, discussing with ease the flavor profiles, quirks, and forthcoming experimentation the 10-barrel brewery incorporates into their array of brews.
We sampled an impressive selection that ranged from their Schroon Summer Ale—light, crisp, and not overly wheaty—to the unique Effinger Steam and well-crafted and flavorful Paradox Tripel—which included the addition of Hatian orange peel, the same one used to make Gran Marnier. We topped that tasting off with the Beaver Bite IPA, which boasted a subtle hop aroma, but kept a well-balanced bitterness to malt flavor.
During an impromptu brewery tour, part-owner Paul Mrocka quipped about his Pilsener “it’s so simple it’s hard to make,” noting this beer’s tendency to pick up off-flavors from poorly washed tanks. Paul, a homebrewer for 30 years, co-owns Paradox with bearded partners David Bruce and Vaughn Clark. Coming out from washing kegs to talk beer with tasters, Paul adds “I don’t have a lab, I’m not going to dilute…you get what you get,” as he laments the challenges of working with varying sugar quantities in barley.
The Paradox family melds the perfect combination of beer knowledge and fun-loving, with an Adirondack twist that allows the brewery to fit effortlessly into its wooded setting. The brewery embraces the local, so much so that it not only mimics its home park’s trail signs, but is also established as a Farm Brewery—meaning it either sources ingredients from local farms or grows a portion of its own, which Paradox does, using ornate, towering hop plants as a backdrop to its tasting tent and game area.
I know I’m overdue for a post, and will have one soon, I promise… in the meantime, here’s a Pint Pic to tide you over.
I’ve already discussed the fact that I was (pleasantly) surprised to find several Belgian beers I enjoyed, so what is your favorite of the many Belgian styles? I find the trappist tradition intriguing, may have to do a monk post at some point. What do you think?
Have another round and stay tuned!
(Just a side note, right after I came up with this ’90s-tribute headline I heard that Nickelodeon is bringing back a handful of nostalgia with The ’90s Are All That, which doesn’t have Are You Afraid of the Dark? in its lineup just yet, but is on the right track)
Anyway, in present-day news, the beer club has been going strong… encountering hefty beers (and opinions to match) along the way.
For me, much like the Belgian tasting we had in January, this month’s tasting of stouts made it tough to pick a favorite. But unlike the Belgian category this was cause I knew I loved stouts and so I had to go into decimal points in my numerical ratings… and I am not a numbers girl. (For the record, I had to go into decimals at the Belgian tasting, too, which introduced me to quite a few Belgian styles that I loved, despite my previous distaste for the overall category).
My good friend, and fellow blogger Sandy and her husband hosted us for the Stout tasting. There was plenty of chocolate and cheese to go with the dark beers (and some fabulous homemade pizza and chili to boot!)
I ditched my salty tooth that day and whipped up some chocolatey treats to go with the whole Valentines Day + Stouts… thing. Also I had been holding on to this recipe from Ladies Of Craft Beer for quite some time waiting for some sort of sweet tooth to emerge in me. And it did!
I made the LadiesOCB’s Double Double Chocolate Stout Brownies substituting High & Mighty’s Two-Headed Beast for the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Despite not being very popular as a sample at the tasting, the Two Headed Beast did go well with the rich brownies, which somehow mellowed the beastly beer’s… “umph. ” (The brownies were great warm, topped with ice cream later, too).
We tasted several varieties of stouts including milk/cream stouts, coffee stouts, imperial stouts, and, of course, chocolate stouts… here’s how things tallied up:
Overall favorite was organic Vermont brewer Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout, which had a nice earthy, slightly dry flavor. Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast and Dogfish Head’s Chickory Stout tied as second favorite.
Least favorite was a little more dispersed, but it turns out our crew is not a fan of Paper City’s Riley’s Mother’s Milk (though I think the milk/cream stouts were in general less popular with the crew, cause Paper City’s other contestant, the Fogbuster Coffee Stout ranked well).
Here’s the full roster (in tasting order)… what’d we miss and what’s your take?
Samuel Adams Cream Stout
Paper City Riley’s Mother’s Milk Stout
Wachusett Milk Stout
Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout
People’s Pint Oatmeal Stout
Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout (my first favorite—I had a tie)
Paper City Fogbuster Coffeehouse Ale
Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast (my other favorite)
Dogfish Head Chickory Stout
High & Mighty Two-Headed Beast
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout
Southern Tier Choklat
Avery Czar Imperial Stout
Hoppin’ Frog Double Imperial Stout
McNeill’s Dark Angel
Victory Storm King
North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
Tonight we take a milder taste with Brown Ales (both English and American styles) so stay tuned for more recaps… plus a selection of my favorite quotes and reviews!
Red, amber, green, or black… Saint Patrick’s Day offers up the perfect (and possibly most united) excuse to have a beer… or three.
Here’s to hoping you all had a fantastic celebration, Irish or not, and that you got the chance to imbibe some interesting brews. I, myself, had some hearty corned beef and cabbage at local subterranean pub, Lion’s Den in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the sweet sounds of a local guitarist and a glass of well-poured Guinness rounded out my St. Patty’s Day. I topped it off with a little Irish whiskey for good luck, opting for Powers over Jameson (since I’d never had the former, and survey says… delicious!).
I had the pleasure of catching a bit of Irish prep in Washington, D.C., as loads of Guinness appeared throughout the city. Not that I needed help getting in the spirit, but it sure did add to the anticipation… how did you celebrate?
I am a hop head. A hop heart if you will… I love hops in all their herbal, citrusy, piney, floral, bitter beauty. I’m also frequently on a quest for solid Extra Special Bitters (or ESBs… capital “B”). Red Hook makes my standard ESB—Otter Creek used to make a fantastic ESB, but unfortunately retired it. Brown’s Brewing Company‘s ESB is a solid rendition, and I’ve recently discovered that Pretty Things Hedgerow Bitter hits the (hop) spot for me too (with a touch of grapefruit!). What’s your favorite ESB?
Needless to say, I was thrilled to see the buzz hops were getting yesterday cause of this lovely little Huffington Post article:
America’s Bitterest Brews
By Joshua M. Bernstein
The Daily Meal/Huffington Post, March 1, 2011
But in this era of craft beer, drinkers are shunning simple brews like Keystone and Coors for coffee-seasoned stouts, burly Belgian ales and, most of all, bitter beers like the India Pale Ale, a.k.a., the IPA… [read the article]
Read more articles I’ve collected (not by me) in the Press Pints tab!