First let me begin by introducing myself and what Chow Hall is to Beer Army. My name is Marc Bayes I am a Certified Beer Server through the Cicerone Program and reside in Denver, Colorado. I work at Euclid Hall and deal with the newest and some of the very best craft beer this country has to offer on a day to day basis. Before I took this job I was heavily into wine. I had worked at a multitude of fine dining restaurants and took on the responsibility of learning everything I could about wine.
Since I took at the job at Euclid Hall I have done the same thing with beer. If there’s one thing I have learned about the world of wine is that everyone pairs it with food. This is probably for a good reasons being how most wine rests around 13% ABV (Alcohol by Volume). Very few people actually take the time to enjoy a bottle of wine without having food paired up with it. However if there is one thing I have learned from beer in relation to wine and food pairing it’s that wine doesn’t hold a candle to beer in terms of actually working well with food; I should say it doesn’t work as well as beer does. Welcome to Chow Hall.
Chow Hall will be an article dedicate every month to the pairings of amazing craft beer and great food. I love food as much as the next guy so you’ll be seeing more than just cheese and beer pairings here but we won’t overlook them either. My goal is to give you beer epiphanies. I want you to say “WOW” when you try some of these dishes with these beers. Let’s take a moment and talk about why beer works so well with food in fact I think it works 100% better with food than wine every does.
What’s the one thing beer has that wine doesn’t? The answer is so obvious you might be surprised if you miss it. Carbonation! Beer is a carbonated beverage and wine is not. While there is beer that is not carbonated, cask ales and real ales, we’ll be focusing this article on carbonated beer or the standard, be it in bottles or draft. Carbonation is the one thing that makes beer so much better and different than wine when it comes to food parings and food in general. You see carbonation is a palate cleanser. Carbonation will wash away flavors that rest on your palate while you eat food. Wine doesn’t do this. Beer actually allows every bite to taste better than the last!
While carbonation is a huge factor in the world of beer and food, it isn’t the only one.
Beer is an incredible beverage for many reasons. The reason I love beer is the flavor. Not every beer tastes the same. In fact when it comes to making beer it’s truly a process of extreme genius. You’re creating a beverage that is meant to taste a certain way. If it’s a Kriek you’re drinking you’re trying to taste cherries. If you’re drinking an IPA the flavors of grapefruit, mango, and lemon peel can shine. If you’re drinking a Hefeweizen you’re tasting clove, bubblegum, and bananas. There is something unique to every beer style you drink as well as who’s making that beer; this will lead to some incredible pairings in your future.
So now that you know who I am and what Chow Hall is let’s spend just a moment on flavor characteristics that your palate will pick up. We’ll also talk about the difference between resonance and contrast in terms of pairing and finally, at the end I’ll share with you a wonderful pairing that you can order out or make at home.
So there are five flavors your palate will pick up when tasting anything: Salty, Sweet, Sour, Bitter, and Umami. The first four are pretty self-explanatory where Umami is a very confusing flavor. Essentially Umami is a meaty or savory quality. You’ll typically find this flavor is scallions, seaweed, roasted meats, and mushrooms. Surprisingly if you try Green Chartreuse VEP (around $15 to $25 a shot) you’ll really understand the sensation of Umami. We’ll talk about Umami and how it works with beer later on down the road.
So when you taste beer you’ll pick up each of those flavors. Sweet is found on the very tip of the tongue and salty just after the tip rounding out the sides of the tongue. Bitter is tasted on the back of the palate or closest to the throat. Sour resides along the sides of the tongue. Next time you taste a beer think about the flavors that are coming forth and where the taste is coming from! If you can pinpoint the taste you’ll pinpoint the flavors of the beer that much more quickly which in turn will help you figure out the best pairings for your food.
When you pair beer with food there are three ways to do it. First you can do what’s called a resonance pairing. This is where you match like flavors of beer with like flavors of food. An easy example of this would be pairing Young’s Double Chocolate Stout with Black Forest Cake. The beer itself carries with it frothy creamy chocolate qualities and it’s in resonance with the rich chocolate of the cake. The two are alike. You’re pairing this in order to allow the chocolate to shine.
Sometimes this pairing can be way over done and doesn’t allow either the food or the beer to shine. In fact it can dull the experience. By pairing a chocolate stout with rich chocolate cake you’ll actually be losing an experience than making a great one. However it’s easy to conceptualize like flavors working together and you’ll find for your first few pairings this route will be the easiest to do. Another example of resonance with pairings is much deeper and complex.
The other way to use resonance pairings is to match intensity with intensity. Sounds a bit more complex right? Think of an English barley wine like Thomas Hardy. Let’s make it even better and make it a vintage bottle around 1985. This beer is 27 years old and has gained so much flavor and complexity it might be very difficult to pair with. While this beer should more than likely be enjoyed by itself it can be paired if you match the intensity of the beer with food that carries with it the same intensity. Here’s when we do a simple pairing with cheese. If we pair this massive barley wine up against a massive flavored cheese such as Stilton or Gorgonzola you’ll find the stinky pungent flavors of the cheese will cut through the richness of the beer and balance out the pairing perfectly. In the future we’ll talk about even more pairings with barley wine because to be honest, it’s my favorite style of beer.
The next way to pair food and beer would be through what’s called contrast. With contrast pairing you’re trying to literally counter the flavors between the beer and the food instead of playing off one another. One of my favorite contrasting pairings is using a massive double IPA such as Avery’s Maharaja and pairing it up with something that’s very rich and very sweet such as dulce de leche. The rich sweetness of the dulce de leche will actually cut through the hop bitterness. I mean it! The bitterness that we have come to love from IPA’s will vanish with the sweetness. The rich sweetness will also disappear because the massive bitterness from Maharaja . The pairing is now balanced through contrast. The result is the flavors of the hops, the grapefruit zest and bright citrus notes will shine and blend with the soft caramel flavors of the dulce de leche.
So now that you know the basics of what flavors come from your palate and where you taste them, the ideas between pairing with resonance and pairing with contrast, and you’ve seen some very basic pairings with beer I’ll give you a great pairing you can cook up at your home or even order out.
Who doesn’t like a burger? We all do and it’s probably one of the most popular ordered menu items across America. So let’s pair up a delicious 100% Prime Burger topped with fresh lettuce and tomato, apple wood smoked bacon, and rich melted Gorgonzola right on top. Finish it up with a buttered and lightly sautéed potato bun. Sounds amazing right? Yea I’m hungry too. So what should we pair this amazing thing of beauty with? Why not something that’s also an amazing thing of beauty? A good ole fashioned American India Pale Ale. In this instance I would pair this burger with Ska Brewing’s Modus Hoperandi.
You’ll find that an IPA will work perfectly with a rich strong burger. The hop bitterness will be balanced by the intensity of the melted Gorgonzola and the maltiness of the beer will also be balanced by the rich juiciness of the burger. You’ll find the flavors of the hops, those pungent and delicious citrus notes will dance with the fresh tomatoes and lettuce. Don’t forget the bacon. The smokiness of will be balanced out by Modus’s bitterness but the flavor of the meaty bacon won’t be out shined or dulled down.
I hope you like the first installment of Chow Hall! I know this has been a pretty basic overview of how to taste and pair but before you can have a beer epiphany or give that experience to others you need to have a foundation. Future posts will cover much more in terms of ideas for food and beer pairings and showing resonance and contrast using the same beer with different dishes. Look forward to sharing with you some amazing pairings here at Beer Army!