There are two current trends in food. The first is pairing bacon with anything: bacon and popcorn, bacon and hot dogs, bacon and dog treats. The second is pairing beer with food to create slightly extravagant meals that may or may not include bacon. This post will attempt to cover that second one.
It’s not new – people have been cracking open cold brews to power down with their burgers for as long as there have been cans to crack and burgers to eat. The difference is the quality of the beer and the careful consideration of flavor compatibility. The rampant proliferation of microbrews and European imports, coupled with growing distaste for bland food and drink, provided all the necessary kindling to kick-start the fad.
There are no rules, but according to Brew Your Own magazine , “the goal is to find a balance, and the keywords to keep in mind are ‘cut,’ ‘complement’ and ‘contrast.’” Rich dishes might need a crisp pilsner or sharp hop flavor to cut them, while other dishes may simply need a complement, something to augment their best qualities. Bold flavors, such as smoked meats or BBQ dishes, will contrast the floral and citrus tang of a pale ale. That said, the best tip out there is to ignore all the tips. Have fun. Try different pairings and let yourself be surprised or horrified by the results.
A sweet pairing
With all of that out of the way, let’s get into the good stuff: which beers go with which foods. I think the easiest starting point is, oddly enough, the end of the meal. Desserts pair wonderfully with beers, particularly chocolate. If you’ve got a dense chocolate cake, you could do worse than to drink it with a stout or porter. The bitter chocolate and coffee tones in the beer are the perfect complement. And if I were you, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a lambic or fruit beer if I knew it was going to be served with dessert. If you’re in the mood for something extra special, try almost any Christmas beer with gingerbread or pumpkin pie. Trust me.
The meat and potatoes
As for main courses, you can’t screw this up. I already noted that pale ales are excellent with smoked meats or BBQ, but if you want to go a little wild, it’s worth hunting down a rauchbier (smoked beer) to complete the meal. And for spicy ethnic fare, try a beer from the same region. They are from those regions for a reason, i.e. chile rellenos washed down with Mexican pilsner or a hot curry with a Singha. American ales and brown ales will jive well with a burger, and all of those autumn beers you see on the shelf right now were born to be consumed with a grilled bratwurst or polish. Their sweet malt character diminishes the sometimes-overwhelming saltiness of the sausage while their relative lightness ensures that you won’t feel like you can’t move after an otherwise heavy meal.
Next time you open up your “beer refrigerator” or head down to the beer cellar, hopefully you’ll have a better idea as to what to select when you’re planning your next meal at home.