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Today: Ron Silberstein, former lawyer and current owner of San Francisco's ThirstyBear Brewing Co., explains why beer is perfect for pairing with food -- and suggests a few combinations to get us started.
Beer is perhaps the most versatile beverage to pair with food. If done thoughtfully, the pairing enhances not only the flavor elements of the food, but also the beer itself.
First, beer is the perfect palate cleanser, as the carbonation and bubbles join to create an acidity that lifts and cuts through fatty and oily foods. Second, the bitterness in the hops can pierce the heaviness of sauces, grease, and meats. Lastly, alcohol and acidity combine to act as a palette refresher that allows us to taste the individual flavor components of food.
Most experts in food and beer pairing agree that beer is best paired to a) impact and intensify the flavors by pairing like with like; b) match flavors by pairing similar but not identical flavors; or c) contrast by pairing beer and food components that complement each other by being completely different.
One of my favorite foods to pair with beer is cheese. In our restaurant, we serve all of our artisan cheeses alongside 3 ounces of one of our craft beers. One of our favorite pairings is a “match” pairing of our Polar Bear Pilsner with Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam cheese. The cheese is a buttery triple crème with notes of white mushroom, and the beer is a bohemian-style pilsner with a subtle malt character finished with light spicy notes from the hops. The bubbles and slight acidity of the beer give a gentle lift to the fat from the triple crème; the light toast of the malt matches the hint of white mushroom in the cheese. The combination is one where flavors are similar but not identical. Thus, each flavor component of the beer and cheese tastes better than when they're tasted on their own.
Here are some recommended cheese pairings to get you started:
- Pale Ales work with a wide range of food, but work especially well with English cheeses such as Cheddar or Derby.
- Indian Pale Ales are best paired with a mild blue such as Gorgonzola or Cambozola.
- Amber Ales go well with Port-Salut or other lightly tangy cheeses.
- Brown Ales are great with an aged Gouda or crumbly Cheshire.
- Wheat Ales and Buffallo Mozzarella should be tried.
- Porters are well paired with Tilsit or Gruyère, while sweeter stouts are a great accompaniment to a buttery, well-aged cheddar.
Photos by James Ransom