Should you have a pilsner with your pizza? A lager with your lobster? An amber ale with your albacore tuna?
It’s easy to find dozens of books on wine pairings, and wine dinners abound in most large metropolitan areas. That’s not exactly the case with beer. While there are a few books available, it’s not nearly as easy to find guidance on beer pairings, even though new statistics from the Brewers Association indicate continued growth in the microbrew industry despite the economic downturn.
While some brewers are using special packaging symbols and Web sites to help drinkers find the right foods for certain beers, sometimes it's better to learn straight from the brewers. Check around your region for brewmaster dinners like the ones recently held in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Breckenridge, Colorado.
I attended the brewmaster dinner in Myrtle Beach, which took place at TBonz Gill & Grill. The five-course dinner was hosted by Dave Epstein, owner of New South Brewing, which makes the TBonz brand beers.
As the evening progressed, Epstein offered some pointers worth passing along.
1. Beer and food pairings are subjective, but the first rule is simple: “The stronger the flavor, the stronger the beer,” Epstein said. So lighter beers went with lighter fare. The Lowcountry Light Lager was paired with the Tomato Florentine Soup, and the Market Street Wheat went with the salad.
2. Spicy foods – like beer-boiled shrimp with Old Bay or calamari with a spicy marinara sauce – go well with beers like the India Pale Ale, which relies on the bitterness of hops (that bitterness will strike some palates as spicy).
3. For steaks, you probably want something robust, like a red ale. “The red still has a little bit of a hop bite to it, but it relies more on malt character,” Epstein said. The Cooper River Red paired well with the New York Strip.
The big surprise from the TBonz brewmaster dinner: An Irish Stout is sublime with cheesecake drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Meanwhile, some nationally distributed microbrews are assisting their drinkers with pairing information. Rogue Ales, based in Oregon, places small food pairing symbols on its beer bottles, allowing consumers to select the right beer for the right cuisine.
Big brewers and food industry groups are becoming more aware of pairings, too. Michelob has some excellent pairing information on its Web site, and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board offers cheese pairings for several adult beverages, including beer.