(Before we begin, I would like to let you all know when I began writing this article, I was expecting it to be shorter. But after some research there just isn’t enough information out there about beer and pairing it on one site. This article will be lengthy and written in three parts. This is part 1)
Beer pairing is a lot like wine pairing, it is important to you know your beers, ales or lagers, subtypes of those, micro-brew, mass production and artisan beers. Beers are as deep and complex as wine, but they all come from 4 main ingredients, brewers yeast, hops, malt (usually barley), and water. From there, whom ever adventurous, can experience wonders of grandeur on their taste buds. If you haven’t already, I suggest reading my previous articles called Mind your P’s and Q’s and Lagers, these two articles give you a general overview of the two main types of beers.
Just to recap Lagers are made with bottom fermenting yeast, they brew at lower temperatures (45-55 °F) than ales and the most common is Pislner. Also in this category is Bock, Amber Lager, American Lager, Oktoberfest, Black Lagers, and Dopplebocks to name a few. Lagers produced in the pilsner style is the most mass-produced and consumed beer of all beers, but typically yields less aroma and flavor than its ale counterparts. Beers that fall into this category are similar to Coors , Pilsner Urquell, Sam Adams Boston Lager, and Budweiser.
Ales are made with top fermentation in the temperature range of 68-72 °F. Ales tend to be specialty artisan style of beer, some people do it well. I love a good smooth wheat ale that has a light citrus bite. My favorite classic Hefeweizen is Widmer Brothers, Pyramid also produces some great flavored wheat ales, everyone should taste their Apricot wheat ale, it has just a hint of bright ripe apricot with a crisp zingy bite. Some styles of beer that fall into this category are wheat ales, amber, *stout, *porter, bitter, pale, blonde, barley wine, brown ale, and Scottish ale.
Now that we have recapped, decide whether your guests want an ale or lager. If you are limited on draft beers it is hard for you or your guests to try the beer before deciding if it will pair well. This is the importance of being familiar with beer types and styles, reading/understanding what is on the label, and what to expect from different beer producing regions. What does imperial style mean exactly? Imperial stout, imperial pilsner, well this just means that the beer is created in the extreme of its style. If it is a pilsner you can expect a light herbaceous spice, but an imperial style pilsner will have full aromatics and full flavored earthy zest.
Some basics to know: Hops are female flower clusters used mostly for flavoring and stabilizing beer, adds a tangy bitterness to beer. Hops, like grapes, will have different characteristics indicative of their location that they are harvested. For example, “Noble Hops” are lower in bitterness than other hops but has stronger aromas, there are four types and Saaz is most common and well-known of all noble hops that are mostly used in European style and imperial lagers. Keeping it local: Willamette hops have a strong woody nose and spicy notes on the palate. Malt is germinated cereal grains, the cereal grains are soaked in water then dried with hot air. With beer the malt is usually barely, the malting process creates the environment the brewers yeast needs to ferment wort into beer. Barley can be uncooked, toasted, and even almost burnt to create deep flavors. Wort is the liquid result of the mashing process done with malted barley before it is combined with brewers yeast. Brewers Yeast is a fungus used to brew beer and sometimes used in bread making.
Tip: If the nose is strong of floral, thick (i.e. molasses smell), or sweet (honey, honeysuckle) smells,90% of the time it will taste of it just as strongly.
Aromatics are very important, if a beer has a smell that is too strong for a guest or unpleasant to them they may not enjoy the flavor. Site and smell is just as important as taste, so be sure to serve the beer in the correct glassware. Start with a nice light beer with an appetizer or salad, Bohemia Pilsner from Mexico is a great start to the evening. Remember, beer has food value, but food has no beer value, don’t start with a heavy beer. Unless your guest is having a salad for dinner they will be full by the end of their appetizer. I love a hearty full beer, but I don’t like to feel heavy half way through dinner. If a pilsner or pale lager isn’t enough go with a Blonde ale or amber lager, both of these boast an aromatic nutty nose. The blonde ale has more bite to finish, while the amber lager has a full nutty start with a light malty finish.
When dinner arrives guest can share a Tilted Smile Imperial Pilsner it is earthy and spicy, this herbaceous beer, will keep up with a savory pork tenderloin entrée or add a kick to a sautéed prawn Caesar salad.End the evening with mud pie, or chocolate torte with a Lambic ale such as Lindeman’s Frambroise, this beer has been fermented using raspberries.
Oohlala I suggest going to local taprooms, breweries, and alehouses, such as Elysian brewery in Seattle, Scuttlebutt brewery in Everett, or Harmon taproom in Tacoma. These places usually have a large amount of draft beers that are a great start when you are ready to venture out and entertain and educate your palate. Next week we will visit some of the most recognized beer regions of the world, and of course the main focus will be keeping it local. Talk to ya’ next week!!
*Can be made with bottom fermenting yeast in rare cases, which then, it would be a lager, stouts and porters can arguable be in a category of their own as well, because they can brew in a degree range between lagers and ales.