Simeon Joffe | Beerology: You know what goes well with beer? ... Everything.
So, the question of what beer goes well with should be looked at in all its beery splendor, as in when and with whom, but also with what (food).
In fact, because beer is really flexible, it goes well with a huge variety of dishes. Whereas wine can be tripped up by sweet dishes, spicy hot or sour foods, beer chugs right along. I could end the article right here by saying that drink the beer you feel like drinking with the food you have in front of you, or even eat what you want while drinking the beer you've already opened. But there are some things to keep in mind.
For example, super sweet foods are difficult for beer, especially dry pale hoppy beers, though some higher alcohol beers with more sweetness work, as do Christmas-style beers, which are also a little sweet and sometimes brewed with spices, like clove and cinnamon.
So, though there are guidelines, there are exceptions. By and large, beer is not great with tomato-based dishes, with one exception: pizza.
Pizza and beer are amazing together. Robert Parker once said something about the perfection of chianti and pizza. So, having read this, I continually opened chiantis when I made pizza. It was good, but I think it was good because, frankly, I love pizza and I love good chianti. Then, one day I was sitting in a pizzeria in Venice, Italy, and watched the locals eat their pizza and most of them were drinking beer. In Italy. Well, I don't know if they do it all over Italy, but I tried beer and pizza, and it is fantastic. Though, admittedly, it might be fantastic because I love pizza and I love beer.
Most wine is fermented dry, the simple grape sugars being eminently fermentable. But beer has plenty of long chain unfermented "sugars" (dextrins) that add body and maybe even a little sweetness. Even lighter beers (if not lite beers) have some of these unfermented sugars. They give a cushion to handle all of the different sweet, sour and bitter flavors that one finds in Mexican food or Asian foods. You can drink wine with Chinese food, or Vietnamese food, but it seems that in most, not all cases, beer works better.
By and large, I would pair wine with food when the type of food comes from a place where they also make wine. French and Italian food go well with wine, no surprise. That is what the people were drinking as they cooked and were coming up with recipes. This works with beer also, with cuisines with countries of origin that have a strong beer culture. I am usually happy to pop open a beer from there. There are plenty of exceptions of course, because in the end, the world — even the world of beer — does not fit neatly within our little schemes (beer and pizza, for example).
Still, if I am in a Thai restaurant, I will order Thai beer, or if I am going to have a German meal, I am likely to have a German beer with it.
When I lived in Munich, I would go to the beer garden in the summer and order all manner of foods, a stinky cheese concoction (Obatzda) on bread, grilled fish (Steckerlfisch); pork shank with dumpling (Schweinshaxe) or whatever food we brought from home, and it was all great, and all great with beer. The funkier the dish (obatzda), the better it was with a dark beer (like Konig Ludwig Dunkel). The fish, which was more delicate, was really good with a Helles (a Bavarian-style malty lager, for example Augustiner Helles) or a German pilsner (like Bitbuger or Konig Pils).
On Sundays, rarely but not never, I would go to a Gasthaus (German for pub) and have the Bavarian traditional brunch or Weisswurst and pretzels with sweet mustard and a weissbier (Schneiderweiss, or Franziskaner).
These are traditional pairings, in a beer-soaked culture, and on the other hand, most Germans would simply order the beer they like and the the food they prefer, and not think about what goes with what.
Here we have a less ingrained beer culture and access to beers from all over the world, or American interpretations of traditional and non-traditional beer styles.
I recently made a Flemish beef stew (Carbonnade), which called for a Belgian-style Abbey Ale (which I interpreted to be a Dubbel) in the stew. I bought a couple of bottles of Ommegang Abbey Ale and I used some for the stew, and some to drink with it. Ommegang is an American brewery that produces Belgian-style beers, and does a good job of it. So, I'm not sure if this fits into the drink a beer from the country of origin or drink local.
All things being equal, a local beer is a better bet than an imported one. Beer is delicate and travel, time and temperature change are all enemies of beer quality. So beers from far away travel longer and under potentially harmful conditions than beers from the region.
Of course, as we all know, beer goes especially well with grilled or barbecued foods, salty foods, fried food, cold chicken, Asian and Mexican food (as pointed out earlier) and spicy foods. It's good on picnics, with burgers, of course (the ketchup is really hard on wine), French fries or onion rings, chips and salsa and chili. I could go on, because as I mentioned earlier, beer goes really well with a lot of foods. Oh, and Buffalo-style chicken wings. Especially Buffalo-style chicken wings, at a bar, with some friends, and a playoff game on the television.
Simeon Joffe is a master brewer and winemaker who lives in New Marlborough. Send your beer-related questions via The Berkshire Eagle at 75 S. Church, St., Pittsfield, MA, 01201.
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