Anyone who’s read The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver’s eloquent, foundation-laying book on the relationship between food and beer, already understands that creative pairing can take what is essentially a good meal and turn it into a memorable event.
However, for some of us, how you go about determining what types of foods work well with different styles of beers to provide that eye-opening cuilinary experience can be somewhat murky. Tools like Great Brewers interactive pairing guide are very useful, as well as several other resources including Beer Advocate and the Brewers Association (found on the right side of this page).
But as I learned at this year’s media luncheon at the Great American Beer Festival, all you really need to remember about beer and food pairing are the three C’s, according to Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association and one of the country’s more than 50 certified Cicerones (the beer world’s version of a sommelier).
“Finding the beer styles that either complement, contrast, or cut the flavor profiles of food is the real key,” Herz said. “Matching the strength of the food with the strength of the beer is very important.”
For example, a classic complementary pairing would be a nice, malty stout with chocolate cake, as the rich, sweet flavor profiles work to elevate the experience of each. On the flipside, pairing an earthy bleu cheese with a hoppy, bitter IPA is an example of contrasting flavors, with the beer’s bitterness also helping to cut the fattyness of the cheese.
Beyond flavor, beer is also very useful for cleansing the palate, as the fine bubbles work to scrub the tongue with each sip and prepare you for the next bite, unlike wine which has no carbonation.
To showcase these concepts, we were treated to a fantastic five-course meal that included several expert pairings presented by brewmasters from around the country. As I discovered, it’s one thing to have a nice meal and appreciate how a fine craft beer augments the experience. It’s a whole different thing to sit next to the person who brewed that beer, as I did with Brett Porter at Deschutes Brewery, and discuss their thought process that went into making the beer and how they feel it works with the dish.
Munich and Chocolate Malt, Cascade and Saaz Hops
Our meal started off with more of an educational session on the core ingredients of beer, using a handful of malts and different hop varieties to demonstrate how these components impart their flavors in the finished beer. Love the smell of fresh hops.
Buffalo Carpaccio with Avocado Tile and Cajun BBQ Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits
Paired with Manana Amber Lager, Del Norte Brewing and Rocksy Stein Lager, Bend Brewing
A wonderful combination of sweet flavors from the thinly sliced meat and barbequed shrimp that worked well with both beers, but for different reasons. The Manana Amber Lager from Del Norte cut the Cajun spice in its slight bitterness, and the Stein Lager from Bend Brewing delivered a complementary profile thanks to the caramelized wort, a result of the 300 pounds of red hot granite brewmaster Tonya Cornett dropped into the seven barrel batch.
Organic Greens with Macadamia Nuts, Colorado Peaches, Jicama and a White Balsamic Vinaigrette
Paired with Hottenroth Berliner Weisse, The Bruery
The acidic vinegar and fruit were fantastic with the biting sourness of the Berliner Weisse. The intense effervescence of the beer, akin to a champagne, helped to refresh the palate for each wonderful bite.
Hibiscus Flower Granite with Fresh Horseradish
Paired with Long’s Peak Raspberry Wheat, Estes Park Brewery
While the beer was great, I found the food to be somewhat distasteful, what seemed like a raspberry snow-cone gone bad. I understood their intentions in coupling the sharp tang of the horseradish with the citric raspberry of the beer, but the dish didn’t do it for me.
Three Day Beef Cheek with Mashed Potatoes and baby Root Vegetables
Paired with Black Butte Porter, Deschutes Brewery
As we savored this expertly constructed dish, Brett Porter at Deschutes entertained us with his favorite English saying, “beef steak and porter make good belly mortar.” The dish was anything but a lead weight in my stomach, perfectly complemented by Brett’s Black Butte Porter that he explained is the country’s best selling porter, even though they only distribute to 14 states primarily in the west (amazing!).
Molten Chocolate Cake with Hazelnut Brown Ale Gelato and Garnish of Fresh Chinook Hop
Paired with Hazelnut Brown Nectar Ale, Rogue Ales and Maracaibo Especial Brown Ale, Jolly Pumpkin
The density of the cake was amazing, with the gelato elevating the dish with a creamy texture that really worked for me. Sebbie Buhler at Rogue explained that Oregon is the nation’s largest producer of hazelnuts, accounting for 97% of production, and it’s clear they’ve perfected the incorporation of the ingredient in their beer. Both the Rogue Hazelnut Brown and Jolly Pumpkin’s offering were a nice way to cap off what was a very memorable meal.