Pairing food and beer is universal.
Maria Halldén and Christopher J. Bartis
FOOD AND BEER SCHOOL AT THE STOCKHOLM BEER FESTIVAL
At Food Loves Beer, we've known all along that when it comes to food pairings, craft beer has the same gastronomical worth as wine. This knowledge is shared by fellow craft beer fans, and also by Michel Jamais, a renowned beverage lecturer, writer, chef and sommelier in Sweden. We were lucky enough to hear Michel’s inspiring and informative thoughts on food and beer pairing at the Stockholm Beer Festival several weeks ago. An innovator in beverage pairing, Michel sold 8-course tasting menus with beer as the key ingredient in the 90s. Still, the restaurateurs paired all the meals with wine because in those days you were expected to drink wine with fine food. However, in recent years, beer has gained world-wide respect as a versatile food-friendly beverage.
In fact, it's actually much easier to pair beer with certain dishes. Beer has a milder acidity and does not have tannins. Beer also has a variety of different flavors, which means it partners better with a variety of foods. For instance, the umami flavors of Szechuan-fried tuna with a sweet mango sauce and fish stock causes white wine to taste bitter and red wine metallic. When paired with a big bold American IPA, like Sierra Nevada Torpedo, however, it’s a perfect match!
Umami you ask? Maybe we got ahead of ourselves. Basically, our tongue can taste five different things: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami. Umami, literally translated as "pleasant savory taste," was recognized in 1985 as the fifth basic taste and can be found in things like soy, cheese, tomatoes, beans, and a variety of aged and fermented foods. By identifying the tastes found in the food you're serving, you can more easily match them with a beer having similar tastes. You should also take into account the texture and spiciness of a dish.
So where were we? Right, wine isn’t always best with food. The tannins in red wines don’t work well with bitter and spicy tasting dishes. However, the dry, sour and fruity flavors of spontaneously fermented beers lend themselves well to dishes like this. A Belgian gueze goes well with lightly smoked char with summer greens and poached quail eggs. And if duck confit is on your menu, why not try Kriek Boon, a lambic made with 250 grams of whole cherries for every liter of beer.
Sweet foods can accentuate a beer's bitterness, so it’s always best to pair them with beers that aren't very bitter, like hefeweizen or wit beers. Another idea is to match the sweetness in food to the sweetness and maltiness in a beer. For example, with desserts, especially chocolate ones, Michel suggests trying something like Tokyo, an 18.2% rich and malty oak-aged stout from Brew Dog. We wholeheartedly agree, and we also enjoy desserts with styles like barley wine, chocolate stout and English-style porters.
Another tip is to break down a dish into separate elements. Take smoked salmon, for instance. Your brain understands how flavors of smokiness and salmon fit together, so how about drinking a smoky rauchbier with a salmon dish? Another idea might be to marinate the salmon in soy, and serve it with a dark lager or porter, where the soy acts as the bridge into similar flavors found in these beers.
Mirroring is also a very good technique when it comes to matching flavors in beer and food. You want to mirror the flavor in the dish with the ones in the beer. For instance, with flavors like toast, croutons, and sautéed butter, light to medium dark malt beers work well. Try dark roasted malt beers with grilled foods or foods that contain nuts, coffee, or dark chocolate. When serving foods with citrus, passion fruit and mango, or herbs like parsley and basil, pair them with a hoppy beer. The secret is to find aromas and ingredients which complement, and mirror each other well.
While we hope these pairing tips are helpful, don’t limit yourself to these suggestions. Everyone’s taste preferences are different. The best way to find the perfect pairing is through trial-and-error, and with the wide array of complex flavors in beer, and the number of craft breweries available, the choices and combinations are almost unlimited. So experiment. Have fun. Be inventive and adventurous. Just remember, food really does love beer!