By Liz Crowe
Welcome to Booze 101, a new and ongoing column here at Brick Magazine. Together, we will explore various options on the alcohol shelf and what you can do with them that does not involve an ice luge, red solo cups, or ping pong balls.* For December, I’ve decided to go with something dear to me: pairing great beer with food. A.k.a., The Beer-Pairing Dinner.
Don’t fret if you don’t think you know about the differences in beer. I’m going to provide you with some specific recommendations. They should be available at most chain groceries, but for a couple of exceptions, you might end up having to visit your local package store or the brewery itself to locate — but it will be worth the trip!
The caveat that I cannot repeat enough throughout this inaugural column is this: you are not bound by any rules when it comes to matching your food with a particular beer! This is about your palate and your taste buds, not mine. I’m just here to provide a few guidelines via some pairings you might not have considered. This can be a super fun event with friends and like-minded, beer-enthused neighbors on a cold winter night.
Okay, roll up your sleeves and prepare your shopping list-making materials!
Things to remember:
- There are no wrong pairings.
- You can drink whatever the heck you want with your food.
- These are suggestions based on what I know, not on what you have to do.
- You should serve small (3-4 ounce) portions of multiple beers when pairing. Be responsible for your guests’ safety.
- Beer, like wine, is best consumed from a glass, not the bottle or can or box or whatever it comes in.
- Beer, unlike wine, has multiple ingredients, and those ingredients affect your drinking experience.
- Because beer has more flavor options, the pairing opportunities are endless.
A few more notes:
- Match intensity with intensity (in other words, fight flavor with flavor).
- Find ways to match similar flavors and profiles (roasted with roasty).
- Find ways to balance out elements (sweet with bitter, sour with sweet, spice with bitterness).
- Don’t forget about carbonization. It will clean the fat from your tongue and keep your palate ready for the next taste.
Lobster Mac-N-Cheese with Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout
“Mac-n-cheese” in the winter is sort of a no-brainer, but lobster amps up the complexity that pairs perfectly with the vanilla and chocolate notes in this particular beer. A hint of saltiness from the lobster addition also cuts through some of the richness, which is only highlighted by the alcohol warmth and spice of a barrel-aged stout. Go easy with the servings, because the temptation will be to devour this pairing and get too full too fast.
- Expedition Stout from Bell’s (Kalmazoo)
- Bourbon Barrel Night Fury from Witch’s Hat (South Lyon)
- Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel-Aged from New Holland (Holland)
- Lighter option: Shrimp Cocktail with a Wheat Ale
Consider steaming the shrimp yourself, using the beer as an ingredient. But if you’re more about grabbing some pre-steamed options for your guests who aren’t into super-rich appetizers, this combination of briny shrimp with a tart beer will delight everyone.
- Oberon from Bell’s (Kalamazoo)
- Whitsun from Arcadia (Battle Creek/Kalamazoo)
- Less well-known option: Honey Lav from Blackrocks (Marquette)
This could be tricky, considering these are summer seasonals, but you could substitute a mild ale like Spacerock from Shorts (Traverse City) or Oarsman from Bells (Kalamazoo)
Salmon/Trout/Tuna (or any rich, fatty fish) with (wait for it) a Saison or Farmhouse Style
This is going to be a controversial option for some who believe that salmon is reserved for IPAs the way filet mignon is reserved for cabernet — but bear with me! This dinner is meant for you and your guests to learn something new about beer, after all. Prepare a rich, fatty fish your favorite way (grilled, glazed, baked) and serve it with an effervescent, bright, complex classic style. Several breweries are doing some great things with this style.
- Farm Hand from Brewery Vivant (Grand Rapids)
- Vacillate from Transient Artisan Ales (Bridgeman)
- Bam Biere from Jolly Pumpkin (Dexter)
- Roast Beef with a Porter
These are complementary flavors that will do that thing that happens in the movie Ratatouille (when the rat eats the fruit and cheese from the garbage?…oh never mind. I think you get me).
Vanilla Java Porter from Atwater (Detroit)
Distorter from Greenbush (Sawyer)
Firestarter from Right Brain (Traverse City)
And finally, the dessert:
Bread Pudding with a Scotch Ale
Buttery, caramel notes and bready notes matching and complementing makes this a perfect winter-night finish to a beer-and-food-pairing meal.
- Dirty Bastard from Founders (Grand Rapids)
- Loch Down from Arcadia Ales (Battle Creek/Kalamazoo)
- Strawberries and Cream with a Czech Pilsner
- This mildly-bitter and floral style is a lovely contrast to almost any berry.
- PC Pils from Founders (Grand Rapids)
- Honorable mention (I’m going off the Michigan theme for a moment, because they do make great beer elsewhere):
- Prima Pils from Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania (you can find this in many specialty package stores).
Bottom line here: pair your favorite food with your favorite beer. See what happens in your mouth and brain. Then try something new to you, and see if you find a new favorite.
I’ll see you in January, when we’ll talk about what’s happening in the bourbon world and how you can benefit.
* This is in no way meant to disparage beer pong or ice-luge drinking. We might even talk about those things later!
Amazon best-selling author, mom of three, brewery founder, craft beer marketing consultant, and avid sports fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales, public relations, and fundraising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse, all of which provide ongoing idea fodder for novels and other projects.