LEARN THE CRAFT
The Perfect Pairing
Brewing with food in mind is all about the taste.
by Alex Shoenthal • January 1, 2016
The only thing better in life than beer or food is beer and food, together. (OK, OK … marriage, kids, rainbows and dogs are all pretty great, too!) While pairing craft beer and food is spectacular in and of itself, consider it from a brewer’s perspective. Can you imagine crafting a beer specifically with a food pairing in mind?
It may sound complicated, but all it takes is a little creativity and a good sense of what tastes good together. I’ve made quite a few brews with food in mind. Likewise, my process is simple. It’s all about selecting complimentary flavors.
I once brewed a Kumquat Ginger Saison with sushi in mind. Saison is a dry, crisp and faintly earthy beer with nice minerality. Adding ginger is a no-brainer; it’s already on your plate. Kumquat provides intense, sweet citrus and acidity to help cut through the oil of the fish or richness of avocado or aioli. Together, these ingredients made for one hell of a tasty beer — but when paired with sushi it was a game-changer!
It’s also fun to take a meal that would normally be served with wine, and craft a beer to match. Prime steak or game meat is an easy example. You would almost certainly expect to pair a big cab or rich, jammy zinfandel … I’m drooling already! But you can achieve this same harmony with the right beer.
Quite some time ago, I made a beer that was simply exquisite with red meat. I started with a Belgian Dark Ale base. Rich malts like Special B, Belgian Aromatic, and Vienna provided the body and texture, while the Belgian yeast worked its magic, transforming into flavors of plum, raisin, dark fruit and phenolic spice. Then I just went crazy and added a few pounds of tart Montmorency cherries and several ounces of oak chips!
The end result was fantastic. While it didn’t taste exactly like red wine, it had many flavors in common. The cherries added acidity and cherry-pie notes, while the oak added tannins, mouthfeel, and hints of vanilla and spice. It was delicious on its own or with dessert, but the beer truly was exceptional with a nice hunk of well-seared ribeye or venison tenderloin. What a beer that was! I think I may just have to re-brew it.
Now that I’ve whet your appetite for a killer food and beer pairing, let me quench your thirst for knowledge. Let’s talk about one of the most important ingredients in beer: hops.
We already know that hops are the flower of the hop vine, and one of the main ingredients in beer. You probably know that they provide bitterness, flavor and aroma, and also act as a preservative against spoilage, because — ta-da! — hops have antiseptic properties.
There are over 120 distinct hop varieties, with more on the way as new cultivars are constantly being developed. Choosing the proper hop for your brew can be daunting for new brewers. Hop selection is extremely important in crafting a good beer, so it’s very important to learn the differences. Hops are typically categorized by country of origin:
Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Simcoe, Equinox, Citra, Mosaic, Willamette, Calypso, Galena, Nugget, El Dorado, Zythos, Crystal and Ahtanum are widely used varieties
Hallertauer, Perle, Saaz, Hersbrucker, Magnum, Tettnanger, Spalt, Saphir, Opel, Mandarina and Tradition
Fuggles, Kent Golding, Progress, Bramling Cross, Northdown, Target and Challenger
Australia/New Zealand Hops
Galaxy, Apollo, Green Bullet, Nelson Sauvin, Pacific Jade, Ella, Summer, Wakatu, Motueka, Sylva and Topaz
The use of hops has exploded over the last 10 years due to the extreme popularity of “hoppy” beer styles such as IPA, Double IPA, Pale Ale, Black IPA, Hoppy Reds and Barleywine. It’s not just an American thing either. These brews have garnered global appeal, and with good cause — hoppy beers are delicious and versatile. They pair well with a variety of foods. They are fun and easy styles for home brewers to make. That said, now is an exciting time to be a brewer, because wonderful new hop varieties are being released all the time. It’s no fad either. Hops are here to stay. Hooray for hops!
Learn the Craft Articles
An intro to the art of home brewing
Brewing with food in mind is all about the taste.
Home-brewing Minds Want To Know
Brew Season is here
Homebrew Supply Stores
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Cabarrus Homebrewers Society
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