Beer: it's not just for breakfast, anymore.
2007 has seen a big push by craft brewers around the country, with the help and guidance of the Brewer's Association, to pair beers with food. It's treated like a crazy new concept, but it really shouldn't be. It's well known that using flavors in your refreshing alcoholic beverage to contrast and compliment the favors in your well-prepared dinner opens up an entirely new gastronomic experience. After all, wine has been paired with food for years. I've made the argument that beer might be better to pair with food than wine, before, and I'll make it (in short) again:
Beer, in my opinion, offers a much wider range of flavors and textures than wine does, and can serve as a tasty beverage alongside a phenomenal array of foods. You just hear food-pairing with wine more often because wine's marketing department has 2000 years on beer's. Beer, in its 4000-year history, has been the plebeian drink. It's seen as blue-collar and coarse. Grain is cheap and common; it's easy to grow and abundant. It doesn't have the relative rarity of grapes, the multi-year manufacturing process, or the romantic history of being the chosen drink of the Roman Empire. Allow me to remind you, however, that almost every culture in the world has a multi-thousand year tradition of drinking alcoholic beverages made from grain. That, my friends, is beer. Remember, too, that eating lobster used to be a mark of poverty.
I might also remind you, like everyone else is nowadays, that Christmas is coming. The goose, as they say, is getting fat. Long years of multicultural history has provided this time of year with a myriad of reasons to drink yourself into brotherly love: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Boxing Day -- whatever it is you celebrate this time of year, even if it's the fact that you're not celebrating anything, chances are you're doing it with food and beverage. Probably a lot of food and beverage. There are a thousand places that will tell you the best vintages of wines to drink with your holiday ham, and what craft beers will go well with your gastronomically explosive turkey.
I'm here, however, to plead for the plebes on this one. Here are beers to try with what you're really going to be eating for the next three weeks.
Let's start, as our column started, with breakfast. I figure that there's 3 good ways to start a holiday vacation day.
Sweet breakfast. Your waffles, your pancakes, your pastries. Pile them high with fruit and whipped cream, drizzle some maple syrup or Lyle's Golden Syrup on top, and go to town. Do it with a nice dark, dry stout. It's your beer-ish coffee equivalent. Dry, roasty flavors will compliment the sweetness in your breakfast perfectly, while the light effervescence will cleanse your palate, and keep you going back for more.
Savory breakfast. Otherwise known as greasy diner breakfast. Two eggs over easy, hash browns, rye toast with butter and Marmite, and a side of breakfast sausage, please. And what else? IPA. Greasy, salty food goes great with a nice bitter beer. It cuts through the rich, savory flavors and leaves you refreshed. It's the beer equivalent of a glass of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.
The "I'm dealing with family" breakfast. I have one word for you: Beermosa. Get yourself a nice light hefeweisen -- I suggest Magic Hat Circus Boy, for its citrusy hops, but anything works -- pour it into a champagne flute with some orange juice. I use 2 parts OJ to 1 part beer, but do what suits your taste. Enjoy.
After breakfast, you can get into the real holiday foods.
Sugar cookies, in your favorite holiday shapes. This depends, largely, on your taste. If the sweetness in sugar cookies are your thing, you might try a sweet cream stout pairing sugar and sugar, and ultimately giving you a chocolaty flavor that traditional sugar cookies lack. You might also try a nice malty English mild ale for the addition of nice caramelly, malty finish to your cookie experience.
Gingerbread cookies The molasses in a gingerbread cookie is one of the things that makes it so distinct as a cookie, giving each little gingerbread-person a sassy life of their own. Porters and brown ales are the perfect compliment. They can add a dark toasty flavor to the rich molasses in the cookie, without contributing too much roasted bitterness to overwhelm what you're ultimately going for: a freakin' cookie, please.
Fruitcake It's true. Some people eat fruitcake, the pimento-loaf of holiday treats. I've done it, myself, while under duress. It happens, occasionally, that some old fruitbat of a relative can surface with one of these relics and force it upon you. "Try it!" they might say, "I made it in 1937, and it's still great!" Fortunately, there's a beer that can make this experience downright pleasant. Dark abbey ale -- a dubbel. You'll find traditional Belgian examples in Rochefort, St. Bernardus, or Chimay Bleu. American examples are easy to find from Allagash, Ommegang, or a suite of others. Three things work to your advantage here: 1) The flavors in a dubbel often evoke chocolate, plums, figs, or dates, all of which do well to actually make the little red and green bits in fruitcake taste like a real fruit. 2) The yeast used to make many dubbels can leave strong spicy flavors -- you can get clove and even pepper from some of them. These compliment and may even disguise the over-bearing spiciness of your average fruitcake. 3) Many, nay most, dubbels have a much higher alcohol content than your normal beer, this makes the pain of the fruitcake short-lived.
Pie I like pie. Who doesn't like pie? Fruit pies are one of the truly wonderful foods of holiday dinners. A la mode or sans la mode, you've got the wonderful combination of a ultra-sweet fruit flavor contrasted against dry, flaky, crusty goodness. Any nice malty beer would compliment wonderfully, but to try a contrast, you might try an ESB -- the hops balance out against the sweetness of the fruit and the creaminess of any ice cream you might have heaped on top. The caramel maltiness of an ESB would compliment a well-made pie crust beautifully.
Of course, these are starting points. There's a beer to go with everything. Challah, latkes, sweet potato pie, pumpkin cake, leftover turkey, those green beans with the almonds in them, whatever. It's about combining flavors that taste good together. It doesn't take any more than a little bit of imagination.
You can read more about pairing beer and food at beerandturkey.org and in The Best of American Food and Beer by Lucy Saunders and The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food by Garret Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
12.17.07 @ 7:13a
I know you said you don't want the overhead and b.s. of a restaurant and just want a brewery, but DUDE! Seriously! This is fantastic!
12.17.07 @ 10:31a
You could sell eggs, pie, fruitcake, and beer!
12.19.07 @ 6:13p
You're my new hero when it comes to beer.
I will certainly try these combinations.
12.20.07 @ 11:04a
Then my work is done here.