Today we’re talking pairing food with beer, a process also known as “how to get way too excited about things.” I unabashedly love beer. It’s tasty. It’s refreshing. It’s got bubbles! It’s alcoholic. What’s not to love? If you want to enjoy beer on a new and exciting level, however, get into beer and food pairings. You won’t believe how good it can be.
The goal is to have fun. Get some food, get some beer, see what happens. It can go several different ways. Sometimes it’s bleh, sometimes it’s meh, but sometimes you get something truly special. That’s what you’re looking for: the apotheosis. This is when the combination of beer and food creates a transcendental experience that weakens your knees and rolls your eyes back. It’s the crack of a baseball bat hitting a center field homer. It’s the perfect drive straight down the fairway. It’s saying the exactly right thing in an argument and dropping the metaphorical mic. This is why we do this!
Believe it or not, it’s not too complicated. Use this information as a guide, and you’ll have a ton of fun. And remember, there aren’t “rules” per se in this endeavor. We aren’t stuffy wine people here. Do your thing and enjoy it. There are, conveniently, three principles to keep in mind: Intensity, Harmony, and Contrast.
Intensity is probably the most important of these. This refers to the power of the beer and the food individually. Sounds esoteric, but you can get it pretty quickly; you don’t need Vegeta goggles. Is a garden salad intense? No. Is garlic hummus with extra garlic intense? Yes. Is an American Industrial Lager intense? No. Is a Triple IPA intense? Yes. The idea here is to put things together such that one does not totally overwhelm the other. Pilsners and light fish, blondes and salads, but IPAs with BBQ, Imperial stouts with veiny cheeses are all generally safe.
Harmony refers to matching like flavors. If you have a roasty stout, try it with a dark chocolate that mirrors that roastiness. Have a honey beer? Duh. Try it with honey.
Contrast is the opposite, as you might have guessed. Back to that roasty stout, try it with vanilla ice cream (roasty v. creamy). With a super bitter IPA, you could go with a rich, fatty, sweet carrot cake. I know, I know. You don’t believe that last one. Trust me. It’s an industry go-to pairing and you will not regret it.
You’ll find as you experiment with these that pairings often have more than just one of these principles. So it’s totally cool to have a pairing that harmonizes in some ways but contrasts in others. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at spotting them and choosing things that work together.
Want some ideas? I thought you’d never ask. Here are some pairings I’ve done that were hits:
De Proef KO Blond Ale & Swinkies (Swanky Twinkies)
Belgian Imperial Blond, 10% ABV
This is a helluva beer to start with. Convention says to start with the weak stuff first. But this ain’t no convention. So drink. The swanky twinkies were found at Merritt’s next to the register, so go get you some. If you can’t find this particular beer, then do a similar style. Or whatever. The idea behind this one is to match the crisp, grainy malt with the yellow cakey-ness while the spicy Belgian yeast cuts the creamy filling. That there is harmony and contrast, and it’s dope.
Oude Geueze & Prosciutto Wrapped Dates stuff with Goat Cheese
Gueze 6% ABV
This might be might favorite pairing ever. The dates require a little prep, but they’re totally worth it. Get some Medjool dates, pit ‘em, shoot ‘em full of goat cheese, wrap in in prosciutto, and bake ‘em until their warm – just enough to crisp up the prosciutto, but not too much! The date packages are candy-like in their sticky, fatty decadence, and the Geueze with it’s amazing fizziness serves to cleanse the palate so you keep wanting more. The earthiness of the aged lambic blend pairs with the rich meat and fruit treat. You’ll find this one hard to stop.
Old Stock 2013 & Chocolate Cake Doughnut
Old Ale, 14.1%
Old Ale is essentially beer that’s left in a cellar to work out and get really, really angry at the world. Yes, it’s the alpha-prison-inmate of beers. This is what you call intensity pairing. Look at that ABV. That’s fo realz. And that doughnut is no joke either…chocolate on chocolate with extra chocolate, and double sugar. Deep malty goodness and powerful ETOH matched against deep chocolate goodness and yummy icing to cut that devil-juice. This works.
Try these, or try a variation of them, or try your own ideas. As long as I am invited, I’m cool with it.