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Etched pint glasses by Glass Blasted Weddings
Just Lovely: Etched pint glasses by Glass Blasted Weddings

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).

Disclaimer: I’m no Cicerone, but after having spent so much time trying beer with friends and hearing their various observations, ideas, and doubts …I’ve developed some thoughts on pairings.

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.

With their powers combined: Beer and Snacks Conquer the Palate

With their powers combined: Beer and Snacks Conquer the Palate

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:

  1. 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.
  1. Down to a Science (left brain)
    If you feel like beer-geeking out you can get all the information you need from a 2014-08-20-15-39-05quick 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-Tasting Beer by Randall Mosherflavor) 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.”
Randy Mosher

  • 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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…

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(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!

Cheers!

Red, amber, green, or black… Saint Patrick’s Day offers up the perfect (and possibly most united) excuse to have a beer… or three.

Get your Goodness: Washington, D.C., unloads

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?

Buried in the hip epicenter of Western Massachusetts that is Northampton—home to progressive colleges, boho-chic shopping, wide-ranging grub, and eclectic galleries—is New England’s oldest operating brewpub, duly named the Northampton Brewery.

If you haven’t perused the rest of this blog, I should mention how big a fan I am of brewpubs—these places, usually brimming with individuality, offer the steadfast trifecta of (über) locally-made beer, hearty cuisine, and friendly atmosphere. More than a sports bar, more than a restaurant, and more than a brewery, the brewpub brings it all together. In other words, I like food with my beer and vice versa.

The Northampton Brewery is a multifaceted establishment housed in a revamped 1890s carriage house. It features a low-lit bar area, a bright sunroom dining space, and a popular rooftop beer garden. Touted as the oldest brewpub in New England, it was opened in 1987 by current owner Janet Egelston with her brother Peter (with whom she also helped open Portsmouth and Smuttynose breweries in New Hampshire, which Peter now owns).

Served atop sullied copper-topped tables, the food at Northampton is hearty, bursting with flavor and creativity, and frequently embellished with beer-featuring sauces and recipes (telltale sign of a good brewpub). My menu item-of-choice, the pulled pork sandwich, comes doused in a perfected combination of zesty spices, their Pale Ale or Old Brown Dog, and homemade barbecue sauce. Topped with tangy slaw made with peppers and red onion it accentuates the underlying flavors of my beer samples (think a warm nuttiness in the red ale, herbal character of the harvest ale, and the ever-so-slightly tangy bitterness of the IPA).

Ah, the samples. Northampton does it right. I frequently grapple with the “dilemma” of whether to go with a flight of samples (which often risk being nearly shot-size) or miss out on trying the full array by getting pints of one or two selections instead. Here the samples (choice of four) come in 8-oz tasting glasses, presented on the always-appealing paddle, which are a fair enough size to get a feel for the beer while still trying out a few different styles.

I started with the Harvest Ale, a rich amber-colored ale emitting a light caramel aroma and bursting with fall sentiments plus a hint of hop bitterness thanks to the wet-hop process. Next was the Redheaded Stepchild, deep red in hue with a tangy sweetness with a smooth, hearty aftertaste characteristic of traditional red ales. The Blue Boots IPA had a sweet floral aroma with a nuttiness and hefty hop bite and the Black Cat Stout offered a creamy, rich coffee finish—extremely smooth and robust in flavor.

With fifteen year-round varieties, nearly as many specialty brews, and comparable seasonal selections, there is plenty to choose from at the brewpub. Styles range from familiar standards like stouts, porters, IPAs, and ales, but expands to lesser-seen experimentations like a German-inspired Sticke Altbier, bitters like the Daniel Shays Best Bitter and (Snow)(Sand)(No) Shovel ESB, and ryes including Magic Carpet Rye and Jess’ Goodbye Rye P.A. Apparently with a penchant for pale ales and IPAs (and fine by me) the brewery boasts quite a few variations on this style, experimenting with different balances of the Pacific Northwest hops they use. The brewery even goes so far as to have an annual IPA Week in December, during which six different India Pale Ales are available on tap. Otherwise, there is usually a mixed selection of about ten beers on tap, plus a few guest brews to round it out. Occasionally the brewery teams up with fellow microbreweries including siblings Portsmouth and Smuttynose for special beercentric events.

Whether going for a concert at one of the many music halls in Northampton, pairing your beer with locally made ice cream at nearby Herrell’s Ice Cream, or shopping at the various boutiques, Northampton Brewery offers a welcoming pit stop or a night filled with all the entertainment you need—hit up their weekly Celtic night on Sundays for live Irish music and a St. Patty’s feel all year long. Take a growler to go and you’re all set.

Quit the winein’ and cheese it up! Cheese and beer are a match made in heaven and Serious Eats isn’t just confirming it, they’re offering up thoughtful pairings that work together. Read on for their recommendations—you never know, the right beer with the right cheese may make you like a beer you never thought you’d enjoy or a cheese you never thought you could handle… now can you handle that?

If you’re extra curious, take it to the next level: There are creative cream-creations out there that incorporate beer right into the mix like Grafton Village Cheese Company‘s cave-aged Truckle, washed in Otter Creek‘s Stovepipe Porter.

Cheese and Beer Go Together Better
By Martin Johnson
Serious Eats, December 28, 2010
Here are three simple reasons that beers go better.
1. In general cheeses and beers speak at the same volume level on the palette.
2. Beer’s carbonation makes an excellent foil for the creaminess and fat of most cheese.
3. The refreshing aspects of most beers offer a fine complement to the salt in many cheeses.
That said, you can’t just pair any cheese with any beer and expect bliss. You need to consider the flavors in what you’re drinking and what you’re eating. Here’s a primer on pairings that work.

Read more articles I’ve collected (not by me) in the Press Pints tab!

Beer and food go together like… beer and food (or peas and carrots, whatever). And lesser-known, though growing in popularity, is the practice of pairing beer with food the way we do wine… beer is perfect in that its natural acidity helps the mouth balance the flavors of the food. But what if you had beer and food… combined (oh, and FRIED, yeah.)? Sounds pretty good to me, as long as there Read the rest of this entry »

A jaunt through Connecticut brought me to New Haven for dinner, which tossed me me back to college briefly. Wow. (My Boston days behind me, I’d totally forgotten the bustle of university traffic—students wandering the streets, meandering parents wavering around for a parking spot… not being able to find a parking spot.) It was a tad grating, but the energy of the city was refreshing and did make me a bit sentimental… and thirsty.

We’d planned to hit up Bru Rm. Bar since a little pre-trip research indicated it was a decent brewpub… but after walking past the hip, industrial windowfront and into the jam-packed entrance, we were told it was almost an hour wait. oof.

Read the rest of this entry »

Talking Pints

“What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”

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Samples with a sunny disposition at Northampton Brewery

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