Craft Beer: It’s for Dinner! (The Basics of Pairing Beer and Food)
Previously thought to be the drink of choice for aging, overweight men whose idea of a fun time was watching TV in their gym shorts, beer is making a comeback. But not your average Budweiser—no—people are focusing and buying up distinctive craft-brewed beers, beers made from smaller breweries that make up the 2,100 breweries across the nation. What makes one a craft brewery? According to greentopmarket it is small (annual production of beer is less than two million barrels a year), independent (less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer), and traditional. Even though craft breweries only made up 9.1% of the overall beer sales last year, craft beer sales are creeping up on the big boys. In fact, according to brewersassociation, craft breweries made an estimated $8.7 billion in 2011, up from $7.6 billion in 2010. Craft brews are making such an impact on the beer industry that restaurants have taken notice and are now offering many different smaller-named brews along with the more well-known beers, such as Budweiser, Coors, and Miller.
Being new to the craft brewing industry can get confusing, especially if you don’t know the different types of beer and what types to match with the food you’re consuming. But the following guide can help you understand the basics of pairing beer with food—turning you from a craft beer newbie into a connoisseur!
Beer’s 4 Main Ingredients
There are 4 basic ingredients when it comes to beer: malted barley (or malted wheat or other cereal grains), hops, yeast and water. The two flavors that tend to be the easiest to pair with foods are malt and hop flavors. Malt tends to be sweeter, which reduces heat in spicy foods. Malty styles include brown ales, porters, red ales, scotch and Scottish Ales, and more! Malt also tends to have a chocolate-y, caramel, roast, or toasted toffee flavor, so it works well with grilled and smoked foods because malt contains many of these flavors.
Hop, on the other hand, comes with a bitter flavor, which counteracts much of the fatty, buttery foods that populate the food nation nowadays. It cuts through the fat and lessens the dense feeling from the food in your mouth. This allows you to enjoy your dish’s ingredients to a better degree, as well as enjoy the flavors of both your craft beer and food.
Follow the Two C’s
The two C’s—contrast and compliment—are key when pairing food and beer. Some chefs like to find commonalities in both the beer and food (for example, pairing a spicy pale ale with an Indian dish), in order to “find a pleasant echo.” Other chefs and sommeliers are on the opposite side of the spectrum. According to manbeerlove, although sweet-tasting food (for example, chocolate) pairs well with sweeter beer, try to contrast flavors. The maltiness or sweetness of your beer can contrast the acidity of your food. For example, try pairing a sweet, Russian-style imperial stout with a salty dish. Similarly, when eating spicy, Mexican food pair it with a malty beer that will quell the burning sensation of your tongue, versus drinking an hoppy India pale ale with a high alcohol content that will just intensify the heat.
That’s the great thing (and difference) about drinking craft beer versus wine—there are no rules. As the writers at destinationbeer reference, “…beware of sweeping rules…let your palate be your guide.” Just try to find a certain harmony.
Craft Beer Trends for 2012
According to bierfesten.wordpress.com, here are some trends to look out for during 2012:
- Market Share and Consolidation
- Vendor Agreements
- Specialty Beers /Releases Will Increase
- Brewers are Rock Stars
So, whether you’re new to the craft brew industry or an old pro, just remember–there aren’t really any set rules as in the wine industry, follow your palate, and follow the 2 C’s–contrast and compliment. You’ll find yourself enjoying a whole new world of tastes that will bring out the tastes of your food even more, creating a pleasurable dance between beverage and food in your mouth!