The world of beer and food pairings is endless. Breweries are constantly pushing the boundaries of flavor, which only serves to open more possibilities. At Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project, our beers are heavily influenced by cuisine and thus in the perfect position to be paired with incredible meals. Today, I want to explore some of the basic rules of pairing beer and food with you.
When I think about pairing, I start with Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver. This is a foundational text, and if you’re interested in pairing beer with food, it is a must-read. Beer and flavor preferences continue to evolve, but you’ll be well-equipped to adapt with these basic principles.
Compliment – This aspect of pairing can itself be split into at least two separate approaches. First, compliment the flavors of the beer and the food. What flavors go well together? I love the versatility of our Basil IPA, which pairs well with any dish made with basil. It goes well with Italian, Thai, hamburgers, and lighter, more savory desserts. If your beer is not infused with herbs or spices, no problem. Consider the nutty richness of an English Brown, and how excellent that would be with a mild cheddar cheese; or a Russian Imperial Stout with a decadent 7-layer chocolate cake. Second, compliment the intensity of the beer and the food. Generally, meals should go from more delicate flavors to more complex, and the beers should evolve with the courses. Don’t overwhelm delicate fish with a rich, malty doppelbock. Build the intensity of the culinary experience in a carefully orchestrated crescendo over the meal.
Cut – If you do this right, it’s amazing! Imagine an intensely spicy dish, like lamb curry. Give it enough heat to make you sweat. Then pair that with an intense…Doppelbock!? Absolutely! The malty flavors of this beer work wonders with the intensity of the lamb, and, miraculously, seem to dull the spiciness of the dish. Can’t stand the heat it anymore? Take another quaff of your beer. The strong, malt-forward sweetness of the Doppelbock lifts the capsaicin from your tongue, carrying the heat away.
Contrast – I think this is the most fun technique, because it allows you to be incredibly creative. It is also, I think, the most difficult to master. It takes a fair amount of knowledge of food and flavor to make a successful contrast pairing. You are looking for opposites. While some opposites attract, others absolutely do not. If you want to do this right, be honest with yourself about the pairings. Are the flavors of both the beer and the dish relayed? Does the dish create a new, interesting interaction, or does it simply fall flat? One of the classic pairings, and one we’ll be exploring at the Urban Farmer, is Dry Irish Stout and Fresh Oysters. The roasted chocolate flavors of the beer contrast perfectly with the brininess of the oysters. The light, mineral flavor of the beer holds up to the intensity of the oyster. If you want to try something even more interesting, serve the beer on nitro!
Now you have what you need to start out an a truly intrepid sojourn into the world of culinary beer. Comment below with your favorite food and beer pairing.