Perfect Pairs: Beer pairings pick up in popularity
When it comes to choosing a beverage to complement a fine-dining experience, wine has some competition. High-end restaurants are leaning toward a new trend of pairing quality beer with upscale courses.
“Across the nation, you are seeing a lot more food and beer pairings,” says Randyl Danner, Beer KC beer director.
Beer KC is the conglomerate that owns McCoy’s Public House, The Foundry and Beer Kitchen in Westport. Danner said the beer pairing/fine dining trend has gained momentum in Kansas City. Beer Kitchen offers a five-course meal with beer pairings each month. The meals typically cost $50 to $60 a person and sell out fast, Danner says.
Beer Kitchen recently had a beer pairing meal with cheeses from Green Dirt Farms in Weston, Mo., which specializes in cheese and yogurt from sheep’s milk. The chefs selected beers for each course that complemented the flavors of the cheese to give diners the ultimate taste experience.
“One thing that beer has that not a lot of other beverages have is carbonation,” which cleanses the palate with every bite, Danner says. “You have a fresh bite and a fresh pairing every time you take a bite and take a sip of beer.”
Executive Chef Martin Woods heads up the beer pairing dinners at Yia Yia’s Euro Bistro in Overland Park. About 45 people attended the $60, five-course, beer-paired meal Woods had in May. He creates each course to fit the flavor and body of the beer he plans to serve. He served Free State beer with the May meal, starting with Copperhead Pale Ale and smoked clams.
“It’s a beer that has a lot of flavor to it but it’s still pretty light,” Woods says.
When it comes to pairings, every chef agrees you have to match the strength of the beer with the strength of the dish. A light dish, such as seafood or chicken, works best with lighter beers, such as a pilsner or wheat beer. A heavy dish, such beef or portobello mushrooms, tastes best with fuller-bodied beers, such as a pale ale, porter or stout.
“Pale ale or porters go great with barbecue,” Danner says. “I always say that pale ales and porters go really well with caramelization of meat.”
If you want to partake in a prix-fixe meal paired with finely crafted beer, there are plenty of opportunities this summer. In addition to Beer Kitchen's monthly beer meals, Yia Yia’s will have a meal July 31 that will feature beers from Boulevard Brewery. And Boulevard Brewery has a Brewmaster Lunch every month that pairs its beers with courses from some of the finest restaurants in the city.
Jeff Streck, beer manager at Lukas Liquor Superstore, has simple advice for those who want to try their own beer pairings at home.
“Rich foods will easily dominate a lightly flavored beer and vice versa. Big dishes need big beers. Lighter dishes need lighter beers, and I’m not just talking about the color of the beer,” Streck says. “The flavor profile of the beer along with the body, or weight of the beer, will determine a good pairing. For example, a well-seasoned steak from the grill would be best served with a rich beer such as stout or old ale. These styles of beers have enough malt backbone to stand up to the richness of a good cut of beef. Also, the contrast of the salty seasoning on a grilled steak can really bring out the natural sugars in the beer, causing the flavors to enhance each other. If you enjoy hops, pale ales are also very complimentary to steak.”
“When chicken is on the menu, lighter bodied beers make excellent matches,” Streck adds. “German wheat beers and Belgian wheat beers are two great styles that have some spiciness to bring out the best in grilled chicken. Pilsners and light lagers are also great matches.”
Regardless of the dish, when it comes to selecting your beer, the most important thing is to pick a beer you like, Woods says. “It’s definitely a personal preference. The most important thing is to taste it and enjoy it.”
Did You Know?
According to a 2010 Gallup poll, of the 67 percent of U.S. adults who drink alcohol, 54 percent of men named beer as their top alcoholic beverage, compared to 27 percent of women. Also, Midwesterners are the top beer-drinkers in the United States.