Blue Point’s Guide to Food Pairings
For thousands of years beer and food have been consumed by humans in perfect harmony. Beer is actually considered a food because it’s grain-based. Beer has a seamignly never-ending line of variety and the by-product of that is countless flavors, aromas and textures. This allows us to mix and match different styles of beers with different types of food. Although the concept of washing food down with beer isn’t so uncomprehendable, a new niche of perfecting which beer tastes the best with what food, this new science has been coined as “Pairing”.
Considering taste is subjective, personal pairing opinion opens the door for quite a lot of debate and an infinety of combinations to experiment with. So the general idea is to choose beers and foods that actually enhance each other resulting in greater flavor and a better dining experience. The Brewers Association (BA) along with several industry beer and food experts, have created a set of suggestions in the form of “Principles of Matching” that we believe will make your next Beer & Food Pairing Experiences an enjoyable success:
Match strength with strength by using your common sense that delicate dishes work best with delicate beers. The more hop bitterness a beer has, the heartier, more assertive and strongly-flavored the meal needs to be, to maintain a good pair between malt and morsel. Try not to overwhelm your palate with too complex a character because flavor intensity involves a variety of qualities in the beer such as alcoholic strength, malt character, hop bitterness, sweetness, richness and roastiness.
Hearty with hearty, sweet with sweet, nutty with nutty and tart with tart. Find the perfect harmony by always keeping your beer sweeter, nuttier or more tart than the food. There’s always exceptions to the rule, like pairing drier, more robust beers with sweet milk chocolate or with certain seasonal or fruity beers with dark chocolate or handmade cheeses. Combinations often work best when food and beverage share some common flavor or aroma element.
For wine drinkers, think of ales as red wine and lagers as white wine. Hoppy beers can actually be used in place of acidic wine for food pairs or cooking purposes. This all may seem very complicated, but it’s really quite straightforward. The better you get at isolating the specific characteristics of food and beer, like sweetness, bitterness, carbonation, spice and richness, the better you will become at predicting the flavor interaction between your pairing. Taking advantage of these “pairing interactions” ensures that your combination will be balanced, each creating a desire for the taste of the other.
Remember that taste is always subjective and what works for one, might not work for another. So as a general rule, if it tastes good to you, then go for it and with that, be open to other’s suggestions as they tend to come with the knowledge of experience. Look to the classic cuisines of beer-drinking countries as they tend to offer many unique dishes established generations ago and their recipes passed down through the years. They still exists after all this time because they work, these traditional pairings offer a great start to further exploration.
Like most things, practice makes perfect. As you can imagine, not every pairing is going to work out as you expected. This can be fun and it could be frustrating depending on when it goes down (first date, thanksgiving dinner), but as you learn to appreciate the occasional unexpected and can build new ideas and parameters from it. When you reach this level, begin to hone your gastro-estetics pairing to a feng-shui level, only then will the young grasshopper unveil their most magical combination to date.
Pairing must contain both contrast and complement, but great pairing is about the balance between. Some pairings will be more dependent on contrast, others on complementary flavors, but all should strive for balance. The beers and foods of a given season pair naturally together and complement the mood. Every once in a while, throw all of the rules out and just experiment. Take notes of the results, you will surely be enlightening your palate.
Pairing Tips from the Pros
- “When cooking with craft beer, experts recommend you keep a few key tips in mind…. Quality matters. Don’t cook with it if you won’t drink it.” — Lucy Saunders, author of The Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing & Cooking with Craft Beer
- “There are a few things to remember when experimenting with beer. As with any other liquid, when you cook with beer you will almost always reduce some or most of the liquid away which will magnify its flavors. For instance, if I were to make a brown gravy using beer instead of broth or water I would opt for something like a sweet stout with little hops bittering because I don’t want bitter gravy.” — Bryce Eddings, About.com
- “The yeast is perfectly suited to baking and battering. Breads, fritters and pancakes profit from being made with very yeasty brews, which lighten the texture and make for tender, tasty crusts.” — Kate Heyhoe, Globalgourmet.com
Beer Pairing Reads
- An Insiders Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink – from the author of “Tasting Beer,” Randy Mosher
- The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food – by Garrett Oliver
- The Beer Book by Sam Calagione (Owner & Brewmaster of Dogfish Ales and Discovery’s hit new show BREWMASTER):
- The Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing & Cooking with Craft Beer – by Lucy Saunders
- He Said Beer, She Said Wine: Impassioned Food Pairings to Debate and Enjoy – by Sam Calagione and Marnie Old