One of my earlier posts here was called, Five No-Fail Craft Beer and Food Pairings. If that was Beer and Food 101, this is the upper-year seminar course. I want to take a look at a few interesting pairings that I don’t think make it onto the lists (like mine) of the obvious places to start.
Once “beer” became “craft beer” and we started to care about flavour and quality, we also started to pay more for it. With that comes a sneaking urge to make it compete with other luxury drinks — wine mainly. Have it play a part in special-occassion restaurant meals that involve sophisticated, chef-designed food. It doesn’t always have to be that way.
There are plenty of no-jacket-required situations that beer has always dominated, where craft beer can do better.
Takeout Thai Food
Not all Thai food is spicy, but enough of it has a chile kick that this characteristic should get a good deal of your attention. It’s important to balance capsaicin heat and also recognize that beers high in alcohol will spread it around your mouth and prolong the burn.
Gose and berliner weisse are two low-proof German styles that also have a touch of acidity to cut through rich coconut milk sauces and boost the meaty flavours of fish sauce.
The Mighty Potato Chip
This pair have been together for as long as anyone can remember. As our choices diverge from plain chips and fizzy, international lager some thoughtful attention comes in handy. For instance, salt & vinegar chips can be over-the-top sour, so it’s best to pair them with a beer that has sour-friendly flavours. My favourites are Belgian wits and saisons that have a noticeable citrus zest character.
Beer can also lift and enliven more complex chip flavours. Recently, Neal Brothers released a Dehli-licious curry chip in collaboration with celebrity chef Vikram Vij. A moderately hoppy American pale ale like Canuck from Great Lakes Brewery helps separate and highlight the individual flavours in the spice blend.
Several, if not dozens, of brewpubs and beer-focused restaurants have the idea that beer pairs well with pizza as their foundation. That’s fine in theory, but there is much more to it. Especially for the loads-of-toppings Americanized version, pizza’s strongest flavours are on top.
So, a sausage pizza that features fennel, chile heat, and other spices needs a complex partner like biere de grade to match. That goes doubly if the pizza also includes the earthy flavour of mushrooms.
Conversely, the bready and charred flavours of a traditional neapolitan Margherita need a more subtle dance partner. Czech pilsner or a not-too-hoppy American wheat are two excellent candidates with the characteristics to highlight the finer points of the mozzarella and basil while still letting the crust play a starring role.
The common theme that bears repeating is that the most important characteristic to consider when devising a pairing is the modifier in a food’s name that separates it from its first cousins. In other words “sausage” generally matters more than “pizza” and “barbecue” more than “chips”. Keep this in mind and you’ll be well-equipped to expand the list of foods that you’re comfortable pairing with craft beer.