Issue 30

Beer & Food Pairings: Delighting the Senses

Beer & Food Pairings: Delighting the Senses

For some of you, the perfect food to pair up with a can of your favorite suds would likely be something in the realm of a hotdog at the ballpark. To be honest, I started out thinking that I was going to poke fun at that, but the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. Frankly, that’s the point of this article.

When it comes to beer and food pairings, the brewing world has for years embraced the palate. Of late, beer and food pairing dinners are all the rage in the inner circles of some of the top chefs and culinary professionals. Why? What could possibly drive a dining public that has been so enamored with ordering up the perfect wine toward beer instead? Well, for me at least, it’s a journey of discovery.

These articles have always been about slighting the status quo and this one will be no exception. To break away this time, it isn’t enough to merely read these words and file away their deep and valued meaning—this time around, you’ll need to take action.

First, some background. Beer and food pairings have burst upon the scene due in large part to the introduction of the myriad tastes and flavor experiences within the craft beer scene itself. Gone are the days when the selection of yellow fizzy stuff was essentially all the same—different labels and marketing plans, possibly, but very nearly identical in taste experience when you finally got down to it. Over the past decade, craft beer brewers around the world have created a landscape that is extremely broad and quite lush. It seems, in the quest to explore whatever boundaries may exist at the time, the brewing envelope gets pushed further and further away from what was considered the norm the day prior. And in doing so, a consumer’s flavor possibilities are drawn with it.

In that vein of great diversity, we find that little analogy with the familiar where the lightbulb usually begins to glow. Think of wine for a moment. When seated in some of the finer dining establishments, it’s quite common to have a list of wines available that is both broad and, unfortunately, sometimes quite expensive. We’ve grown accustomed to this expectation of choice—at least in wine. What you may not know is that a similar breadth of choice exists in beer. And here’s the hidden gem: you’ll find that wine typically outpaces beer when it comes to expense. Spot a great wine on that list but can’t afford it? Probably. That interesting little financial barrier doesn’t exist with a world-class craft beer. For the unenlightened, I’ll bet you’re thinking that’s simply due to the fact that we’re talking about beer—something better relegated to that hot dog accompaniment mentioned earlier. Guess again.

Beer and food pairings can have many goals. We can find themed evenings built around foods as specific as cheeses alone, or chocolates, or possibly even desserts. While these can be, and are, incredibly entertaining and palate-expanding, we find that many of the more diverse menus take a broad swipe at a truly intense culinary evening. Four and five course meals where each course is individually plotted and mapped into a craft beer are the promised land for many of us. Pairings perfectly tailored to bring about taste sensations not normally associated with either the food or the beverage alone. Believe me, this is exactly where the eye-opening, life changing moments begin.

To truly develop an exemplary beer and food pairing, of any sort, is to drive those experiencing these tastes into a universe of the unusual. Take, for example, two items that could possibly fall into the mental slot labeled “Been There, Done That.” Blue cheese and German Wheat (or Hefeweizen). Blue cheese by itself may be a little salty and dry to the taste and a tad pungent in the nose, while a good German Hefeweizen may have aromatics heading in the opposite direction. A banana character, some vanilla, and a taste that may tilt to the lightly sweet, somewhat bready side. Combine these two items and you’ll find that both the cheese and the ale become moderately sweeter. The aromatics combine to subdue both the pungent and the banana while creating a pleasant overall shift to light pastry. But that’s just me—you may find something entirely different. The simple fact is that the new reality is there, a combination that has created something entirely new. This is the epiphany that opens the heavens, or the palate in this case, and moves us in the direction of why these pairing experimentations have been gaining so rapidly in popularity. Sure, wine has its place—more often as an accompaniment than a palate shifter—but craft beers not only have their place in the presence of elegant food, they appear to excel at the task of delighting the senses.

Craft beers have a depth of complexity that we’ll likely never encounter completely in our lifetimes. At its very core are some of the best brewers in the world, with most of them constantly striving to take yesterday’s norms and destroy them.

I’ve cited but one small example in a superset that has no boundaries. To experience your own small slice of Beer & Food nirvana, you must experiment. Will you find your perfect match today? I doubt it. Will it come tomorrow? Possibly. But believe me, you will find some truly extraordinary taste sensations if you simply find a few unusual bottles and work your way through a meal. Don’t stop with what logically comes to mind—an amber with lamb, a stout with dessert—attempt the absurd. Take the leap and you’ll grow.

To make it even easier for you, seek out your local beer and food pairing evenings. The chefs and brewers work long and hard to weed through losing combinations, to find those that are truly stunning.

How to find them? A great place to start is simply by calling your local brewpub or enlightened restaurant to chat. To get a feel for the larger universe that is beer and food, head to and look in their events calendar. When you find your own personal set of mini-revelations, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to live with wine alone.

Paul Kavulak

Paul Kavulak

Paul’s first professional life was spent working in IT. Most recently as the SVP of Enterprise Technology Integration for West Corporation and while this occupied his daylight hours, most of the others were consumed by an immersion in beer. Not physically – his passion exists in beer and brewing. Prior to starting up Nebraska Brewing Company with his wife, Kim – Paul had been homebrewing for roughly 17 years. This passion formed the basis for a dogged pursuit of perfection in numerous beer styles and beer history. Livin’ the dream

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