The 3 C’s….we’re not talking diamonds, we’re talking beer

Cut, Complement and Contrast. The 3 C’s which make beer so great with food. Heck you could make it four, Carbonation, no, make that 5, add Cleanse. But those last two are really components of Cut.

Cut and Cleanse are basically the same thing….as in cleanse your palate; cut or remove the fat and oils on your tongue so that each bite of food tastes as good as the first. Beer’s low alcohol content, and carbonation both help to accomplish this. It is one of the great advantages beer has over other beverages when enjoyed with a meal.

Complement and Contrast refer to the taste profiles in the beer and in the food it is paired with. In some combinations the beer helps bring out qualities of the food because of the complementary or similar flavors between the beer and the food. In the case of roasted meats and baked breads, beer has a distinct advantage over most drinks due to the Maillard browning reaction. The Maillard reaction is a chemical change to the sugars  and amino acids in meats and grains when heated. Beer due to the malt (basically roasted barley) contains a similar caramelized flavor – complementing or bringing out the same flavors in food. Contrast is the opposite, different tastes that enhance the other. Berry Weiss with chocolate. Mild lagers with spicy foods.

But the best part of beer and food pairings is that there are no firm guidelines. No societal standards like white wine with fish or any of the other “rules” the wine world has defined. Increasingly chefs are cooking with beer. Experimenting with food and beer parings.

Had another work-related opportunity to attend a beer and food dinner. Formal 6 course. At the Merkat Restaurant in Chicago’s Blackhorse Hotel. A collaboration between Merkat’s chef, Jose Garces, along with Ryan Johnson and Grant Holtackers, trade brewers for Tenth and Blake Beer Company. With each course, the Chef and one of the brewers explained both the food and the beer.

 This was the third beer and food dinner I’d attended this year (other two written up here). As with the others, the meal began with Blue Moon Belgian White (5.4% abv, 17 IBU) paired with the salad course. The coriander and citrus in the Blue Moon make it great with both salads and seafood. Also learned that night that Blue Moon differs from Belgian tradition by using Valencia oranges in the recipe versus curacao oranges.

Chef Garces had used some of the Blue Moon in the dressing. Spicy almonds added a nice touch to the Serrano ham and figs.

A seafood course followed Halibut con Chorizo paired with Batch 19 (5.5% ABV, 26IBU), a beer brewed with a recently discovered pre-prohibition recipe. Hoppy, with a caramelized color and taste.

Our table was split on this course. Half thought this was their favorite course, for me, my least favorite of the food courses. A nice pairing, beer was quite good, as was the fish. I just enjoyed the other courses more.

The next course listed on the menu was a mystery on first read. Leinenkugel Fireside Nut Brown paired with Tocino con Cidre. Huh? Translated a yummy house cured pork belly w/ a parsnip puree and black truffle, apple, cabbage slaw. The Nut Brown (4.9% ABV, 13IBU) has a complex malt character with hints of roasted coffee, chocolate and hazelnut. Not surprising from the lower IBU little noticeable hop flavor.

Next up was a Black Angus hanger steak paired with Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell.  Pilsner Urquell (4.4 ABV, 40IBU) is often considered one of the most influential if not one of the finest beers on the planet. It was the first golden beer, first pilsner style. Urquell means from the original source. Hoppy, bitter. Strong flavors to accompany this strong meat.

A cheese course followed, paired surprisingly with Guinness Stout. Not surprising from a food/beer pairing perspective, but because this is not a Tenth and Blake product. Guinness Stout is one of the world’s most respected beers. It was a nice treat to taste this beer once again. I don’t often drink beers from other brewers and companies (am making an effort to try other beers on a more regular basis, expand my beer palate so to speak) Each time I drink this beer I am fascinated by how the deep roast and malty-ness masks the high bitterness of the beer (40IBU). Great with the cheese. This and the pork belly course were my two favorites. More and more I love cheese courses with good artisan cheeses.

Last up was dessert. The classic chocolate and berry combination. Sheep’s cheese berry cheesecake with chocolate croquettes paired of course with Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. Yummy finish.

Great dinner from the Merkat and Tenth and Blake folks. Thankfully after all that great food and great beer, all I needed to do was ride an elevator to my room. Far too stuffed and sated to do much else!

Beer and Food, who knew………….

Actually, a lot of people know that beer is a great accompaniment to food. And not just the standard burgers, wings and ribs. The carbonation (cleanses your palate), lower alcohol level (no hot finish) and acidity of beer often makes it a better beverage with most foods than other alcohol choices (yes, wine, I’m looking at you). As 10th and Blake Trade Brewer, Ryan Johnson stated, “Beer is better with food than wine could ever hope to be…. Pairing food with wine is like hunting with a rifle and scope – you better be dead-on accurate or you go hungry. Pairing food with beer is like hunting with a shotgun – even if you miss perfection, it will still delight if you follow the basic rules.”

Over the years, I’ve been to countless wine & food dinners – even “hosted” or moderated a few. And, yes, I’ve had the occasional perfect pairing, but believe me, I’ve also had my share of misses. However, the wine industry has done a much better job of marketing and romancing the paring of food and wine. Beer lovers and brewers are beginning to understand and promote the same. In the last month, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy two such beer and food dinners. Both upscale with chefs fully engaged in both cooking with the beers and creating excellent matches of beer to food – across all courses of the meal.

The first was a four course meal. Appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. Created by the Executive Chef at the Grand Traverse Resort in Grand Traverse Michigan. Excuse the photo quality – at both dinners I only had my phone, which let’s just say lacks in photo quality.

Appetizer course: Meyer Lemon Encrusted Sea Sea Scallops with a pepper caper pipperade finished with a Peroni drizzle, accompanied by Peroni Nastro Azzurro. Peroni Nastro Azzurro is an Italian import Pilsner with a refreshing and dry taste, a crisp lager.

Salad Course (this was wow, I love Blue Moon, and didn’t realize how great it is with salads.) Heart of Romaine salad with toasted walnut crisp, orange supreme and Walnut Belgian white vinaigrette. Blue Moon Belgian White is a medium bodied, unfiltered Belgian-style wheat ale spiced with fresh coriander and orange peel.

3rd course – 5 Onion Strip Steak with classic Amber cipolini, grilled scallion mash, amber beer battered vidalia, shallot demi and asparagus braised with leeks. Leinenkugel’s Classic Amber was the paired beer. Leine’s Amber is a Vienna style lager brewed with a blend of three malts to provide a bright copper hue and intense malty aroma – four types of hops give it a floral and spicy aroma.

Finishing off the meal was Berry Weiss Bread Pudding with a raspberry white chocolate anglaise accompanied by Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. This fruit wheat beer is flavored with Wisconsin loganberries, elderberries, and blackberries this tasty fruit beer was a Bronze Medal Winner at the 2004 Great American Beer Festival, and a Gold Medal at the 2007 GABF.

A couple of weeks later, I was back in Michigan. This time Grand Rapids, where I attended the dinner for the Meijers Charity Classic (affiliated with the LPGA). This beer and food dinner was hosted by 5th generation brewing legend Jake Leinenkugel. Dinner was created by the Executive Chef for the JW Marriott in Grand Rapids (one of my very favorite hotels, BTW). Three courses this time, all featuring Leine’s beers.

First course: Crispy Kurobota Pork Belly, salted caramel, candied kumquat, arugula accompanied by Leinenkugel Honey Weiss. Honey Weiss is an American Wheat Lager with a delicately sweet, malty flavor with a nice balanced hint of bitterness and a teasing taste of pure Wisconsin honey.

Main course was a filet of beef. with olive oil whipped potatoes, spiced pears, peppered spinach and a sage glace. The beer was Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest, their fall seasonal beer (in your stores now, but hurry!). Oktoberfest is a traditional German beer brewed with Pale, Caramel and Munich malts, and a blend of cluster, Tettnang, Hallertau and Perle hops. This medium bodied beer has caramel malt flavors balanced with spicy hop overtones. Great with steak – and the sweetness of the pears and the pepper of the spinach. Yum.

Leine Berry Weiss once again was paired with the dessert. Double chocolate panna cotta, genoise, raspberry anglaise with hazelnut. And wow, the Berry with this chocolate, oh my. The stuff of dreams.

Bottom line – if you see a beer and food dinner in your town, run not walk and attend. Expand your culinary horizons just a bit. You won’t be disappointed.