Wine is fine with food, but pairing food with beer can be just as satisfying. "Typically with wine, the philosophy is contrasting flavors," said Alec Lopez, chef-owner at the Armsby Abbey in Worcester, Mass. "Wine doesn't have the ability to have similar flavors. Beers have so many diverse flavors to bridge that flavor gap."
Wine is fine with food, but pairing food with beer can be just as satisfying.
"Typically with wine, the philosophy is contrasting flavors," said Alec Lopez, chef-owner at the Armsby Abbey in Worcester, Mass. "Wine doesn't have the ability to have similar flavors. Beers have so many diverse flavors to bridge that flavor gap."
The Armsby Abbey is a beer bar that is known as much for its food as it is for its beer selection. Lopez hand picks all of the ingredients, and nearly every dish on the menu includes beer.
Historically, wine has been viewed as the beverage of choice for fine meals. Beer, on the other hand, has been viewed as a beverage you enjoy with pizza, barbecue and chips.
But that's not accurate. Beer, Lopez said, has an advantage over wine because of the numerous ingredients you can use and the flavors that you can get from different ales and lagers.
Beer can be paired with goat cheese, steaks and everything in between.
"My favorite all-time pairing is garden-ripe fresh tomatoes with a fresh-hop ale," said Lopez. "It's an absolute joy."
Wines are limited by their core ingredient -- the grape -- but you get beers with flavors of fruit, nuts, caramel, chocolate and more.
And beer can be paired with food using similar or contrasting flavors.
With Thanksgiving approaching, thoughts are turning to what to pair with the big family meal -- or at least mine are.
Lopez's first suggestion is a good saison, such as Saison Dupont. Saisons are a farmhouse-style ale originating in Belgium.
"It's an elegant beer," said Lopez. "It's a very friendly beer for a turkey."
Another option is a nice Oktoberfest-style lager, with the caramel-like malts joining together with the flavors of turkey.
As craft beer is growing in popularity, more and more chefs at fine restaurants are beginning to recognize their advantages, both in food pairings and cooking, Lopez said.
It doesn't make sense that restaurants carry the finest of wines, and only offer mass-produced American lagers for beer.
"I always ask if these restaurants would carry jug wines," said Lopez. "What's the difference?"
When pairing food with beer, Lopez said people can do two things -- after you cook a dish, think about what beer can go with it, or pick a beer and craft a dish to it.
"If you're having a beer and you think, 'This would go great with a grilled cheese sandwich,' then have it with a grilled cheese sandwich," he said.
Lopez said there's pretty much a beer (or multiple beers) that can pair with almost any type food, and here are some of his top choices:
CHEESE: A classic pairing is a Belgian-style witbier, or wheat beer. It's a perfect accompaniment for goat cheese. Another good pairing of beer and cheese is an English-style barley wine with bleu cheese.
BEEF: Many different beers can be fantastic with beef. Lopez said a nice brown ale, such as Dark Horse's Boffo Brown, works well. If the beef is barbecued, a smoked lager can be a perfect pairing, he said, or even a dry export stout. With beef, avoid an overly hoppy beer, he said.
CHICKEN: A saison is always a good choice, or a lightly hopped beer, such as a pale ale may also work.
PORK: Pork is one of Armsby Abbey's specialties -- "(It's) our favorite around here," Lopez said -- is versatile and, like beef, a brown ale or a smoked beer can work well. If it's fatty pork, a geuze -- which is a Belgian ale typically tasting sour or tart -- may be the best selection. "It's an acidic beer, and it can cut through fatty foods," Lopez said.
FISH: A wheat beer -- either a Belgian witbier or German hefeweizen -- is a natural pairing. The various flavors in those beers won't overwhelm a delicate fish. If you're eating a richer fish, something stronger such as a Westmalle Tripel would also work. A doppelbock and swordfish is a pairing worth trying. If you're a sushi fan, Lopez said stay away from wine and grab a good American pilsner.
DESSERTS: Often people are surprised when beer is offered with desserts but Lopez said they shouldn't be. "It's the most obvious (of all the pairings) to me," he said. There are many beers made with chocolate flavors, others with fruity flavors, all which can work with various desserts. Even other beers, such as Rochefort 10 (a Belgian tripel) can work with Belgian chocolate, he said.
People who are interested in pairing food and beer at home should not be discouraged if something doesn't work. Half the fun is trying new things.
"It's a beautiful thing to experiment with different flavors," he said.
For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail Norman Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-626-3823. Check out The Beer Nut blog at http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut/ or follow the Beer Nut at his Twitter page at www.twitter.com/realbeernut.