September 19, 2019

Beer: The Other Food Pairing

The dragon the wine world forever chases is food pairing. It started with the simple mantra of white wine with fish, red wine with meat. Now there seems to be a whole industry searching out all the flavor nuances of a particular dish and what wine matches best with that.

It’s been a boon for the culinary world as the diversity of tastes from cuisines around the globe has caused a food renaissance in the United States that has taken us from the bland meat and potatoes of years past to vibrant, bold flavors that enhance the pleasure of eating for any foodie.

A new trend has developed recently in the chase for great culinary pairings, and that’s the use of beer as the primary match for food. I consider it an outstanding development as the choices available in the beer world have expanded exponentially in the last 10-15 years, and beer is the original fermented beverage that has paired well with foods for millennia.

So, let’s talk about beer pairings, and examine why beer is such a food friendly beverage and the general rules of thumb when it comes to matching beer with any dish.

Beer Pairings Techie Stuff

The sensations of taste and smell have a threshold and saturation effect. For you to taste and smell something there has to be a critical amount of it for you to sense its presence. Once you’ve sensed its presence, the subsequent taste and smell will decrease with continued exposure from the stimulation until the sense is saturated and the taste or smell is muted or completely absent.

Most foods that you eat, particularly if they contain fats, will coat the surfaces of your mouth. This quickly leads to the saturation effect when eating foods. Do you notice that the first bite is the most flavorful, but subsequent bites are not as strong in flavor?

Beverages such as wine or beer can clean the mouth of that coating, provide a new stimulus to reset the senses of taste and smell, and give you the maximum flavor in your food as you eat. There are several reasons why beer can actually be considered the ideal beverage when it comes to food pairing, but the three to focus on are acidity, carbonation, and bitterness.

Acidity, Carbonation and Bitterness

Acidic beverages, with the help of enzymes in the mouth, break down the bonds between fat molecules that allow them to coat the surfaces of your mouth. While not as extreme as wine, beer has a good amount of acidity and a fairly low pH.

Bubbles provide an active lifting and scrubbing mechanism on surfaces from nucleation that can remove residues. The carbonation of beer works on the coating in your mouth in the same fashion.

Bitterness is the one flavor that least saturates in taste sensation (because most poisons are bitter, making it a vital sense), so it functions extremely well in being a palate cleansing reset. Even the mildest of beers enjoy some level of bitterness from hops. Combine all those factors and beer really is an ideal drink to enhance the taste of food.  When it comes to making the match, the first rule of thumb is to match the browns. Simply look at the color of your food. Is it a light white fish with no caramelization, or a roasted meat with nice grill charring? The lighter the color, the lighter the beer; the darker the color, the darker the beer. That fish would be great with a Pilsner, while that charred meat is calling out for a porter or stout.

Similar and Complementary Flavors

Second, look to pair similar flavors. Sweet glazed ribs would be nice with a sweet, malty amber ale, while an herbal chicken would match nicely with the aromatic hops of an IPA.

Finally, look to contrast certain tastes to expand the taste experience. A classic pairing is the sweet, citrusy, grainy flavor of hefeweizen with the salty flavor of a good feta cheese. The sweet/salt contrast makes for a wonderful taste experience. While the nature of beer makes it difficult to pair a bad match, following these basic concepts will help you make exceptional ones.

Beer is an excellent choice to enhance the simplest meal of bread and cheese, to the most elaborate creation a chef can offer. Beer for much of western history has been the everyman’s everyday drink. While wineries may be some distance away from where you live, chances are there is a brewery close by. So head to your local brewer and enjoy the versatility that beer brings to your meal.

Drink responsibly.

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