Pairing Beer with Food

When it comes to food pairings, there's not much that doesn't go with beer.
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You can’t pick up a food magazine (Edible Finger Lakes included) without reading a food and wine pairing or some suggestion on what wine to drink with what you eat. But what about brews? Don’t they deserve some special treatment when it comes to adding them to your meals? Seneca lake-based Wagner Valley Brewing is building a reputation and a following as an expert in making suggestions to help add beer to the dinner or lunch or even if you want to make a meal out of a simple glass of the cold stuff. We picked their brain for help on how to treat beer and food as solid culinary companions.

EFL: How do you approach pairing beer and food?

Wagner Valley Brewing: We have a great appreciation for both, and ideally we want to pair them to be an experience. We like finding subtleties in the food that really bring out subtleties in the beer and vice versa. In terms of its flexibility and ability to be paired with a variety of foods, beer stands up well against wine. Similar rules apply: Typically, bold flavors are going to accompany bold flavors, and something that’s more subtle is going to go with a more subtle beer. For example, a beer that’s got a really spicy floral character will pair well with spicy foods such as Thai curries. A sweet and savory brisket with barbecue sauce, on the other hand, goes well with a bold lager, such as our Sled Dog. While that beer is really nice as a stand-alone product, you’re going to bring out its rich, malty character by having it with the brisket.

EFL: How do pairings change through the seasons?

WVB: There seems to be a trend with craft breweries to release seasonal beers, and they usually are in keeping with what is appropriate for that season’s food. Springs beers are often not quite IPAs but pretty crisp and on the bitter side. In the summer, you want something that’s refreshing—lighter beers with lighter foods. Hefeweizens are great, and many saisons are released in the spring and summer. In the fall, the market gets flooded with pumpkin ales and Oktoberfests, which pair nicely with typical fall foods like apples or the obvious choice, pumpkin pie. Winter is the perfect time to get Russian imperial stouts that can seem fairly unappealing in the summer because they’re so strong and have so much weight. They go well with anything that’s sweet and sticky, great for hibernation mode. Plus, there are a lot of Christmas ales with cookie spices for the holidays.

EFL: What other advice do you have?

WVB: Just try different things and keep an open mind. Pairing food with beer could turn someone who doesn’t normally gravitate towards beer into a beer appreciator. Also, a lot of times people get very set in their ways. I have friends who consider themselves beer drinkers but think that only a hoppy IPA is a great beer. We’d say, experiment with some other style with your dinner tonight and see what those two things do for each other.

EFL: What are some of your favorite pairings?

WVB: We really like beer and cheese; especially with all the great local cheese producers we have around here. Take, for example, an aged, very sharp cheddar from Sunset View Creamery. Normally we’d suggest that with an IPA, but we found that it really brings out the smoky character in an oatmeal stout, and the beer gives the cheese a rounder edge. Smoked cheese can be really nice with the stout, as well, or a German rauchbier (smoked beer). Some of the Belgian-style beers that have very distinctive esters go well with gruyére and soft, potent French cheese.

EFL: Are there any beers that should better be left alone?

BW: It doesn’t have to be a particular style of beer, but sometimes you come across something that’s really unique and complex and has a lot of layers. You may just decide that you don’t want anything else to come into the mix and drink it on its own.

Wagner Brewing Company, 9322 State Route 414, Lodi, 866.924.6378

This interview was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of the magazine

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