Beer. Food. Beer AND Food.
They go together like Laurel and Hardy. Like Lucy and Dezi. Like John and Yoko. Like Bo and Luke. Like Peas and Carrots. Alright, have I covered enough of our multi generational audience? I'm not here to convince you that beer is the perfect partner for your feast this Holiday season, I'm here to TELL you it is. And furthermore, I'd like to give you just a little insight into how I pair beer and food and especially Alesong Brewing and Blending beer and the wonderful things you might eat this weekend.
First of all, let's get this out of the way. I love wine. And I love to drink wine with a meal, especially at the Holidays. So go ahead, drink some amazing Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, but save room for the beer, because it's going to absolutely sing on your holiday table. Whether you need the elevated carbonation to scrub your over-worked palate or you need the perfect flavor hook to make mom's salty ham shine or even just a bourbon-y night cap after you've finished off the last piece of pie, beer is going to be your friend this weekend.
Tips for pairing
When I think about pairing up beer with food, it's important to keep in mind the idea of matching intensity of both the beer and the food. As with wine, lighter beer styles often work with lighter foods (salads, seafood, etc) and bolder beers will often work better with bigger foods (grilled meat, spicy food). Make sure one partner doesn't 'bury' the other. Next, understand the following terms. Complement. Contrast. And Cut
Are there flavors in the food that will complement the beer, providing a flavor hook. For instance, could the roasted bits in a juicy beef tenderloin complement a toasty American Brown ale? Would the aromatic lemongrass in your favorite Thai food marry with a Sorachi Ace dry hopped Saison? Make sure the flavors sing together with a beautiful melody. However, be careful that 'like' flavors don't cancel out similar flavors in the other. That's where the next tip comes in.
Often, contrasting flavors can really bring new flavors to the mix. Think how great that sweet and salty trail mix is. In the similar way, a big chocolatey porter can be a great pairing with a cherry cheesecake. Or perhaps a mildly bitter IPA and a sweet and spicy carrot cake? Just make sure that there isn't too much dissonance that they make both untouchable. Think orange juice and toothpaste. Yuck!
In the culinary world, chefs pay close attention to 'cut'. They are looking for acidity to cut through fatty and rich foods, hence the use of lemon juice or other acid to brighten up flavors. Wine's acidity is a great foil for cutting through these flavors. In the beer world, we now have the whole realm of sour beer styles. The increased attention to beers with low ph has opened up a new beer style that goes great with SO many types of foods. Do you have a light chicken salad? Try a berlinner weisse. Do you have a rich juicy burger with blue cheese? Try a Flanders Red ale with the perfect balance of tart acids and sweet malty character.
Hops can also provide that 'cut'. One of my favorite things to do is to just pick a hoppy pilsner and have it with any large meal. Slightly bitter hops and light bready malts do the trick in cutting the richness without making you too full. Pale ales and IPAs can do the trick as well if you consider yourself a hophead.
Once you've matched intensities in your beer and food, and thought about how complement, contrast and cut will work, it's time to plan your menu. There are a ton of resources out there. First, go to craftbeer.com. This knowledge heavy site is produced by the Brewers Association and is my go to when looking for information about beer and especially how food can work. There are several links to articles, videos, and beer style descriptors. Check out this awesome pairing chart - it might be all you need to get started!
Next, you can buy a book. There are a lot on the market. Check out Powell's you Portlanders or swing by Cooks, Pots, and Tabletops if you are in Eugene. I've seen a lot of food/beer books there. One of my favorites is Beer Pairings: Julia Herz and Gwen Conley cover a ton of information on beer, food, and how we tasted them. It's a little sciency, but very practical.
Another great one, partially written by Oregon Brewer (Wolves and People Brewing), Christian DeBendetti, is Beer Bites: You'll find all kinds of pairings and recipes to get started on your exploration. I get hungry just looking at the pictures.
Alesong with your holiday meal
So, you grabbed some Alesong beers recently and you want to show off your new found pairing prowess. Well, here are some thoughts, with a few alternative suggestions thrown in.
Baked brie en croute - Shake Your Tree American wild ale aged on peaches. You know how some baked brie recipes call for smothering it in fruit? Well, smother it in this tart beer with Eugene grown peaches. The tartness will slice through the rich creamy cheese. Also try New Glarus Serendipity or Upright's Fantasia.
Duck rillettes, morel pate, and the rest of your charcuterie plate - Four Brothers quad. The deep earthy flavors of the rillettes and pate will hold hands with the dark fruity date like flavors of the quad. And the finish of the beer is light enough to clear the richness of the meats. Also, try something lighter like Ninkasi's Helles Belles or a milder, yet aromatic IPA like Wanderlust from Breakside.
Arugula salad with apricots and chevre - Shake Your Tree or Blackberry Gose. Again, the tartness will cut the creamy cheese and the fruits will marry with the apricots. Also try Crooked Stave's Wild Sage Brett Saison. A herbal vinagrette would pair perfectly with this aromatic beer.
The Main course:
Cocoa braised lamb - Four Brothers Quad or Rhino Suit bourbon barrel aged Imperial milk stout. The cocoa notes in the stout are a great complement to the deep chocolate flavors on the outside of the lamb. If you have a large meal, consider the non barrel aged quad. Or, if you just need a palate cleanser, try our Tangled up in Blueberry. The light acidity will wash away the rich meaty flavors. IPAs could work well here too. If you are in Eugene, check out a crowler of ColdFire's Autumn IPA.
Honey glazed ham with pineapple and cloves - I'm thinking Saison du Vin here. The tropical flavors of the muscat will be a nice pairing with the sweetness and the pineapple, while the higher carbonation will scrub the salt from the ham, preparing your mouth for the next bite. Ninkasi's Tripel or Logsdon's Kili Wit could be a good pairing here as well.
Flourless chocolate cake with cherry sauce - Rhino Suit is my pick here. Chocolate covered cherries with Bourbon anyone? You could also try an Obsidian stout by Deschutes for something lighter.
Pumpkin pie with bourbon spike cream - Shake Your Tree. The light cinnamon spice hint from the barrel aging will be the perfect marriage with the pie. And Bourbon? well...duh!
Christmas cookies - any beer. Santa approves. Trust me.
The possibilities are endless. Most importantly, realize that there are no real right or wrong answers. It is your preferences and your own palate. Experiment and take risks. Please eat well. Drink well. And Pair well. Be Safe and have a great holiday season!
Matt, Brian, and Doug