Beer is a beverage that gets unfairly neglected when it comes to epicurean food appreciation. When someone goes out for a nicer-than-usual dinner, chances are that they are going to ask for the wine list before they reach for the beer menu. In all fairness, wine can enhance the enjoyment of almost any dish, but beer is a drink that tends to get overshadowed by its (ostensibly) more sophisticated competitor.
If you take a serious interest in consuming quality beer, it quickly becomes obvious that it offers just as much variety, complexity, and plain deliciousness as any other drink. When consumed properly, beer can offer an exciting dimension to what might ordinarily be a mundane dining experience. To make sure that your next beer experience is a positive one, here are a few food/brew pairings that can usher you into a world of beer appreciation.
Aggregate lagers – meaning the cheap, light beers that people gulp by the gallon – have spoiled the larger lager category for many people. As you might know, beer is divided primarily into two categories – ales and lagers – which are designated by the type of yeast used. Nevertheless, the Pilsner redeems the lager category with a crispy, effervescent drinking experience that isn’t too bitter or too rich: a good entry point for many novice beer drinkers. A tall, chilly pils compliments spicy Japanese food nicely, but it can also create a nice balance with a hearty German sausage-based dish.
The India Pale Ale was created with the intention of preserving beer for longer, so it usually includes more alcohol (to kill bacteria) and more hops (as a preservative) than other styles. Thanks to modern science, we now have more advanced methods of storing perishable food, so the IPA is just a hop-heavy delight that the British Army has left to posterity.
Depending on how alcohol-heavy an IPA is, you can typically pair food with it as if it were a Chardonnay or a Cab: lighter poultry and seafood dishes for lower ABV, and savoury, greasier dishes when the ABV is higher. Although IPAs are delicious (many are regarded as the best beers in the world) they take some getting used to as their pronounced hop character might be too bitter for some people. However, if you can tolerate a stronger hop-kick, the juicy fruity tones and refreshing floral notes of an IPA await.
If you don’t go in for hops, citrus, or carbonation and prefer smoky notes, the smell of coffee, and slowly smoldering charcoal, then you’ll enjoy a porter. Compared to lighter beers, the malts used in these opaque brews are roasted, giving the porter’s colour a rich smokiness. They are usually served at room temperature and as your beer sits you’ll be able to discern more and more hidden qualities – some of which include the faintest hints of deep red fruits like cherries or strawberries. A beer like this is best with a smoked or grilled beef dish, and can even go nicely with a chocolate dessert.
To a novice beer drinker, the differences between an original stout and a porter might be hard to determine, but imperial stouts are a type of beer that not many people would have trouble categorizing. The term “Imperial” (or sometimes “double”) means that the beer uses more than the traditional amount of malt which, after being processed by the yeast, turns into a greater amount of alcohol. Additionally, the increased malt content can give the beer a silkier texture, as opposed to the grittiness brought on by the porter.
The beer itself will always be more viscous than any other beer variation, and the stout will usually crown your glass with a billowy brown head. It’s not hard to detect the smooth chocolate characteristics of these giants, but red fruits and cask residue can make these beers more delightfully puzzling. Although imperial stouts are heavy enough to be enjoyed on their own, a portion of grilled fatty beef or a spoonful of rich chocolate can be made even more delicious with one of these black beauties.
We’ve only scratched the surface here – there are hundreds of beer styles that are available.
To enjoy beer properly you should always consume in a proper glass, since colouring and fragrance are important components to every beer style. Also, beer that has more flavour typically has more alcohol, so be sure to drink high ABV beers responsibly. Remember, the key to fulfilling beer appreciation is not discriminating against any particular style of beer, and drinking every brew with an open mind.
Written by: Patrick O’Neill