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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…
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!