Beer makers have long brewed merely for dudes that just drink beer, and not with food pairing in mind. While in some cases this still makes for a great beverage to pair with food, a good portion of the time this is not the case. Especially here in the U.S. where brewers tend to take traditional styles and amp them up in some way. A good example of this the classic British style the Pale Ale. Medium bodied with a subtle but pronounced maltiness balanced by a mild hop bite, the benchmark of this style is undisputedly Bass. Enter the American Pale Ale… typically lighter in color, equal in body and malt, but way more hops than their counterparts across the pond, Seirra Nevada is probably the ambassador of this offshoot.
Other specimens of this phenomenon abound, from Russian Imperial Stouts that drink like motor oil (Old Rasputin) to IPA’s that are little more than alcoholic hop flavored beverages (Two Heart). Don’t get me wrong, this is not always a bad thing. I’m quite fond of a lot of these over-the-top American interpretations of classic European styles, and in fact Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is one of my favorite domestic beers. The fact remains, however, these steroid-jacked iterations are often too much beer to successfully pair with any food outside of the realm of pizza.
Fear not, though, foodies of the world, as there seems to be a growing number of breweries that are taking food and beverage pairing into account when formulating recipes. Realizing finally what the French have known for centuries, that a beverage can enhance the food it’s paired with, and vice versa, a few breweries across the globe have started to embrace this concept. Chefs as well are starting to notice the potential beer holds as an alternative to wine as a beverage to pair with their creations, adding a new spin, more variety,and deeper complexity to the traditional pairing options. In fact there are a couple world renown Chefs that are joining forces with breweries with this goal in mind. To help the breweries understand what the Chef wants to see, what their food needs as far as pairing is concerned, and to help the Chefs understand how the breweries accomplish this.
Ferran Adria, known the world over for his ground breaking mad scientist approach to food with his impossible to get into restaurant in
Spain, El Bulli, is one such Chef and probably lead the charge. He brought his sommelier team to Estrella Damm brewery and met with their brewmasters. The result of this alliance was “Inedit”. A medium bodied, golden-amber colored beer flavored with orange peel, liquorice, and coriander, it goes well with a vast array of foods. From shellfish to light game to salads and charcuterie, the pairing choices are myriad. The breweries website, and accompanying YouTube videos describe the flavors and proper serving methods better than I could, so I’ve included a link at the end. The only foods I’d avoid serving with this are those with big flavors, such as red meats, grilled or brasied meats, stronger game like venison and
bear, ect. For those items, there is another…
The brewers at Rogue combined forces with another titan in the food world, Masaharu Morimoto, to come up with their Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale. We’ve enjoyed this at more than one meeting of the Estate and I’ve touted it’s excellence more than once here, so to avoid sounding like a broken record (or obsessed fan-boy) I’ll simply include links to those write ups at the end.
There are many other chefs that are getting as involved as Ferran Adria and Morimoto. Does the name Thomas Keller ring a bell? Yes, he’s been serving beers as the beverage pairing for certain courses at the French Laundry and Per Se for quite some time now, and in fact his chef at Per Se got together with the local team at the Brooklyn Brewery to craft a brown ale to go in a holiday gift basket for their investors and they had plenty left over to go on the menus at Per Se, the French Laundry and other Keller restaurants. It was so successful their will be more to come from that collaboration. It seems my favorite beverage is finally getting the recognition and status it deserves, putting it firmly in the “luxury” category of beverages due to the myriad of craft breweries springing up that take their beer every bit as serious as the vineyards of Bordeaux.
As a chef, beer nut, and home-brewer I’ve been touting the merits of beer as a potential equal to wine as a food pairing beverage for nearly a decade. In my early tenure writing for this site I dedicated a post to it (link below). This follow up was inspired by a meal we had last month featuring several beer and wine pairings. A meal that also inspired my last two posts… yeah… it was pretty epic…
It is one of my fondest hopes that more brewhouses hear this call and join the charge, and more chefs see this potential and encourage it. The result will further the development of both disciplines and produce a more open dialog between brewers and chefs. More fine beers listed on menus under “recommended beverages” for each dish, the exploration of new culinary territory, and a greater sense of pride for all involved. Who won’t benefit from that?