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Beer and food pairings for perfect occasions

By Roger Mittag

There are those who believe that once the season changes, it’s time to switch beverages to one better suited for the colder climate, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Beer is the perfect drink to entertain with or to match with seasonal menus based on flavour rather than type. Its lower alcohol percentage makes it ideal when considering responsible use, while its flavours and aromas make it ideal to pair with food.

The first step in understanding how to pair beer and food together is to toss out any pre-conceived notions that golden coloured beer has no place at the table during the colder months. It really comes down to whether the flavours and body of a particular beer match with certain foods.

With fall coming up soon, let’s take a look at four styles of beer and how you can incorporate them into your menu all year long.

Lagers

Lagers such as Pilsners are wonderful beers to use during the colder months. My preference is to use them alongside soups such butternut squash or French onion. The rationale is multi-faceted and includes complementing, cutting and contrasting (the 3 C’s of beer and food pairing).  With a butternut squash soup, you generally have the sweetness of the root vegetable, the richness of the cream and possibly a little spice like pepper and nutmeg. A good Pilsner has bread characteristics and slight sweetness that complements the squash and moderate bitterness to cut through the richness. In the case of the French onion soup, you add a third dimension – contrast. The sweetness in a nice Pilsner is contrasted beautifully with the savoury notes in the soup while complementing the sweetness of the caramelized onions.

Porters and Stouts

Porters and Stouts seem to come alive at this time of year. When the temperature drops, we crave beers and foods that give us a sense of warmth and could be best imagined close to a hearth or fireplace. But these beers bring special gifts at this time of the year.  Porters and Stouts are robust with flavours of coffee, dark chocolate, vanilla and roasted grains. They are typically smooth with moderate bitterness and the weight of the beer is a perfect complement to darker meats, stews, chili and other warming meals. In addition, these wonderfully complex beers are excellent to pair with desserts.

Here are a couple of ways to work a Porter or Stout into your dessert offerings:

To complement a chocolate dessert, these beers will accent the chocolate and coffee characteristics; but here’s the big benefit — their moderate bitterness is wonderful to cut the richness out of creamy dessert, making it easier to enjoy the entire portion.

Another unique way to use these flavourful beers is to pair them with a fruity dessert such a cherry cheesecake. In this case, you are contrasting flavours. Dark, intense notes of chocolate and coffee dance beautifully with the sweet, slightly tart body of the cheesecake, giving you a virtual Black Forest Cake with every bite.

Fruit beers

Fruit beers seem to be out of place after summer but I would strongly suggest that Belgian Lambic beers such as Kriek or Framboise be paired with chillier weather. These complex beers from the Senne Valley near Brussels have both sweetness and considerable acidity and make them very easy to pair with a variety of foods. They can easily be used as vinaigrette with salads and are exciting to serve along with a variety of cheeses. In addition, you might want to consider using this beer as a contrast with a chocolate dish (exactly the opposite of the Stout-and-dessert idea). Fruit Lambics are also highly recommended when serving game meat, duck or even goose and make a perfect match to a traditional turkey dinner.  The slightly higher carbonation serves to cut the richness of the meal while the tart fruit notes work in conjunction with cranberry sauce.

Complex beers

A great way to round out your seasonal beer offering is to include some extremely complex beers. Bock beers are very well-rounded in flavour profile and often bring out aromas and flavours of dark fruits like plums, dates and figs. I would also suggest Belgian Dubbels, Tripels and Quads. These higher alcohol beers work so well with fuller bodied foods that we would normally enjoy at this time of the year but are also spectacular with a variety of cheeses and charcuterie.

One thing to keep in mind with these beers: They get much better as they open up and warm up. The proper serving temperature for complex beer is between 9 and 17 degrees Celsius. It truly is amazing to observe the transformation of flavours when a beer gets to its correct temperature. Also, it is crucial to have the right glass. The typical glass for these Belgian beers is a chalice – an open mouthed goblet that invites oxygen to play and create a beer that is smooth and enjoyable. A large red wine glass or a snifter also work well.

With all these ideas in mind, this autumn should be an open invitation to explore the world of beer and be creative with your beer and food pairings.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Calgary.

About the author:

Roger Mittag is the owner of Thirst For Knowledge Inc® (www.thirstforknowledge.ca) and the founder of Prud’homme Beer Certification® and can be reached at rmittag@thirstforknowledge.ca for further discussion on beer and food.

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