The Perfect Pair

The union of the Venn Diagram of “foodies” and “craft beer drinkers” is a fairly substantial one.  There is much that unites these two communities, from a passion for creation founded upon both science and art to an interest in fresh, high quality, locally sourced ingredients.

For many, the idea of “pairing” food with drink means wine.  Wine and cheese plates are a mainstay at upscale restaurants, whereas many people’s idea of what pairs well with beer doesn’t go much beyond barbecue chicken wings while watching the fight.  But why should that be?  Wine—though certainly an excellent accompaniment to many dishes—does always showcase a certain tannic acidity that eliminates many dishes as possible partners.  Beer, on the other hand, is far more forgiving, and its base notes far more varied.

As a matter of fact, the aromatic and flavor chemical compounds present in a great deal of food actually have far more in common those found in beer than in wine.  Meats, in particular, which the wine industry has marketed its products in combination with to much fanfare, are generally raised on a diet of cereal grains (not fruit, obviously), so it makes a certain amount of intuitive biochemical sense that the meat you eat—and also those products that come from that meat, like cheese—contains derivatives of these cereal grains … the same cereal grain that makes up your beer.  Indeed, nearly half of the world’s barley crop is used as livestock feed.  When you’re pairing wine and food or cheese, you’re almost always trying to draw a contrast – putting the wine in opposition to some flavor component in your food to enhance the experience.  The ability of beer to both contrast and compliment food opens up great gastronomic possibilities that wine can’t hope to touch upon.

Duck Foie Gras with Balsamic Reduction and Apple Tempura by Chef Simon of Waterfront, a perfect pair for our People Power Pale Ale

In addition to complimenting the flavors present in many foods, beer is better than many other beverages at another important component of food pairing – cleansing.  Nearly all styles of beer have at least carbonation, and some are highly effervescent; this crispness energizes and refreshes the taste buds more than the dull, flat acidity of a wine can.

When I’m trying to pick a beer to go with a meal or a course, I first think about flavor intensity.  A no brainer, really, but certain beers are “bigger” than others – they’re maltier, hoppier, higher in alcohol (higher abv%), more heavily spiced, you name it.  Regardless of what food or beer you’re in the mood for, you’re only going to be able to taste one or the other if you pair a Double IPA with 120 International Bitterness Units with a delicate white fish filet, or a light, crisp German Pilsner with a heavily spiced Indian curry.  Just make sure they’re in the same ballpark and you’ll be fine.

Beyond that, think about complimentary and contrasting flavors.  Identify the primary flavors in the beer you’re looking to cook a meal to accompany or the meal you’re looking to find a beer to pair with and either go for a striking contrast or a reinforcing contrast.  In the most simplistic terms, beers exist on grid ranging from unhopped to highly hopped and from very dry and well attenuated to very sweet.  Mentally putting beers on a Examples work best here, so we’ll use our beers here at the Cebruery as an example.

Watermelon Salad by celebrity chef, Chef Sau del Rosario a perfect pair with our Boracay Blonde

Our Boracay Blonde is a mildly hopped, low abv% pale beer that’s relatively effervescent.  I’ve found that it works really well when paired with salads, seafood, and fruit dishes.  The effervescence cleans the palate between bites and compliments the astringent “bite” of wild greens and leaf vegetables well, and the mildness of the hopping and the malt backbone doesn’t overpower any of the softer, more delicate flavors in any of these dishes.  Alternatively, since it’s relatively low in alcohol, you can also use our Boaracy Blonde as a straight up thirst quencher, pairing it with spicier foods that will leave your palate unable to appreciate anything too intricately flavored, anyway!  The springy, citrusy, grassy flavors of lighter cheeses like chèvre or brie really shine when paired with a beer like our Blonde.

Caesar’s Salad Pizza by Chef Simon, a perfect pair with our People Power Pale Ale

Our People Power Pale Ale has a little more “oomph” to it, and can stand up to something a little more potently flavored.  Hops do a great job at cutting through grease, contrasting anything that has vinegar as a main ingredient, and anything that has a moderate amount of spice to it.  Think of it as the beer equivalent of acidity in wine.  Barbecue pork, pizza, fried chicken, curry, or adobo would all accompany it very well, cutting through the grease, acidity, and heat of these dishes to bring their flavors as well as our hop-heavy Pale Ale in to sharp contrast.  Bold, spicy cheeses work really well here, too – one of my favorites is Jalapeño Pepperjack.

Smoked Maplein Salmon from The Gustavian, a perfect pair with our Dumaguete Dubbel

Our Dumaguete Dubbel is maltier but also fairly dry, a little more caramelized, with some darker fruit notes and some yeast overtones.  Think hearty but not overpowering, like smoked fish, bratwurst, or a hearty soup.  It would also pair well with a fruity dessert that’s not too sweet, like a tart or a fruitcake.  Nothing destroys the flavor of a beer like a dessert that’s overwhelmingly sweet, however, so the key here is balance.  A smooth, smoky cheese like a gouda would also augment the dry fruits and toastier malts well.

Grilled Angus Beef Tenderloin with Salsa of Capers, Olives, and Roasted Peppers, a perfect pair with our Chocolate Hills Porter

Our Chocolate Hills Porter might be the easiest of all to pair.  Porters, sours, and dark lagers pair surprisingly well with a wide range of food – hearty meat-based dishes like burgers, dishes with gravy, thicker stews, oysters, bacon, or anything that’s been smoked or braised work very well.  However, so do desserts, especially chocolate or coffee based dishes, really bringing out the dark malts that form the base of this beer.  It also pairs really well with stronger cheese, like aged cheddar or funky blue cheeses like a gorgonzola.  The nuttiness created by the brown malts and the English ale yeast we use also makes this dish a great pair for anything with nuts in it or anything you’d traditionally associate with nuts, like chicken satay or cashew chicken.

We’ll be updating all of our individual beer pages soon with tasting notes and pairing suggestions.  Of course, taste is a very subjective thing and what works for one person might not work for another.  If it tastes good to you, then go for it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *