This edition of Deep Thoughts explores the delicious, delicious interplay between food and beer
By Dave Hoops
This issue, we are going to touch on beer and food, two topics I sure love. My name is Dave Hoops, Master Brewer at Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, Minnesota. In this issue we address two of my favorite topics: Food and beer. People that love great food have been pairing wine with meals for centuries. In the last 50 years or so, many have realized that beer—not wine—may be the best match for a great meal.
Beer has many components that complement food. Beer is made with barley (which adds sweetness), hops (which provide bitterness), yeast (which lend those characteristic “bready” flavors), as well as spices, nuts, chocolate, fruits, and vegetable notes. When thinking about how to pair beers with your meals, there are a few guidelines to consider.
Flavors—Complementary or Contrasting
• Pairing a spicy meal with an IPA that boasts lots of hop flavors is an example of flavors complementing each other.
• Pairing a Belgian White (with orange and spice flavors) with a chicken dinner is an example of using very different flavors that can make the meal interesting.
Most folks know the usual rule of thumb from the wine world: red wine goes with meat and white with fish and poultry. I will put some beer styles into this example.
• Light Body Beers (Lager, Pilsner, Wheat): These pair well with cheese, fish, grilled pork or chicken, light pasta dishes, and Asian cuisine.
• Medium Body Beers (Ale, IPA, Bitters): These pair well with burgers, wings, Mexican food, pizza, steak, and spicy food.
• Heavy Body Beers (Stout, Porter, Barleywine): These pair well with smoked foods, BBQ, stew, chili, salty foods, oysters, chocolate desserts.
Now that you have read a very general beginners guide, you can start having fun. I’m remembering one of my most unique food and beer experiences and shall recount it to you here.
Food and Beer Around the World
A few years ago I traveled to Germany to attend the Brau, considered the largest brewery trade show in the world. During this trip I sampled many amazing German beers and of course the local fare. We visited a town called Kemmern located about 20 miles outside Bamberg in Bavaria. The American friend I was travelling with had previously worked at the brewery in Kemmern called Wagner-Bräu, which like many small breweries in Germany, served the local region and of course had the pre-requisite keller. We were welcomed with great fanfare and I was treated to one of the best food and beer experiences of my life. From my notes:
• First course: Chanterelle soup, a mushroom soup with a fruity earthy aroma. Paired with Wagner Ungespundetes Lager. A young unfiltered slightly sweet lager beer.
• Second course: Schmaltz, rendered fat used for frying or as a spread on bread. This spread had small pieces of pork in it and we had Franconian wood oven bread to slather it on. Unbelievable stuff, my mouth waters thinking of it. Paired with Wagner Pils, a traditional slightly hoppy dry lager.
• Third course: Fränkische Bratwurst. A thick, coarse sausage, common to the whole Franconian region. This was served with a potato and cucumber salad. Paired with Wagner Cuckoo, a smoked beer.
We didn’t have dessert, but I know I also tried Wagner Wheat, Wagner Country Beer, and Wagner Marzen that night. Clearly I was there for the beer and truly loved it, but I will never forget that meal. The environment, the simple, amazing fare, the perfect blending of flavors. This is what beer and food is about. I could go on and on describing similar meals and flavor pairings I have discovered over the years. But I will spare you.
My advice is: Drink and eat what you like. You cannot go wrong on this path. Try Apricot Wheat with bacon and eggs, try Edmund Imperial Stout with brownies, try Surly Furious with spicy Thai food, and try Indeed/Northbound Hotbox Porter with brats and pickles. My point is, experiment as often as possible. When you get very comfortable with trying new beer and food pairings then you can start cooking with your favorite beers.
My Current Favorite Food-and-Beer Recipe
64oz (growler) Wildfire Lager
(Wildfire is a hot pepper lager brewed with six types of chilies. Four hatch varieties, Serrano, and habanero.)
8 Chicken breasts de-boned
1lb cherries, Montmorency variety
Fill a big bowl with the beer, chicken, and cherries. Cover and keep cool for 24–36 hours. Remove chicken and strain liquid into a saucepot. Bring to a boil, then hold at a simmer to create a reduction. This can take a few hours. Start your grill, salt and pepper the chicken, and grill at low heat. When finished cooking, cover the breasts in the wildfire reduction. You will thank me for this.
I hope you all enjoyed these thoughts on the world of food and beer pairing. Remember, the sky is the limit. What tastes good is good. I will leave you with my current five favorite everyday food beers.
• Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
• Fitger’s Brewhouse Park Point Pils
• Summit Saga IPA
• Schells Brewery Grain Belt