Over the past several weeks we have been on a journey to identify, or at least try, what foods go with what wine and spirits. We have learned that food and beverage pairings are not always obvious, easy or even good. 

We have delayed the discussion about one adult beverage that likely crosses more borders than all the others: beer. This oldest of alcoholic drinks has been a part of the human experience for over 9,000 years, likely predating wine and most certainly coming along a long time before distilled products. Our ancestral forefathers had no trouble putting together some grain, a little sugar, water, and watching the yeasts already present work their magic. Or maybe they never put those elements together and the meeting of those items was a happy accident. No matter. The human race has been celebrating ever since. 

Today, we are in a renaissance of quality beer production, incorporating all manner of domestic and foreign hops, exotic yeasts, high-end grains and even fruit. The impact of craft breweries has not gone unnoticed by large, big business breweries. Those large conglomerates, due to their size and production capabilities, cannot join the smaller breweries in terms of flavors and drinking experiences. So they do what large companies have always done: they buy the smaller-by-design craft breweries.

I am reminded of a New Yorker cartoon with two big business tycoons in a corner office, cigars in hand, looking at a painting depicting a very large predatory fish about to engulf a smaller prey fish. The caption, said by one of the tycoons, “I like to call it merger.”  

The matter at hand is beer, and we drink a lot of it in South Louisiana. Why not? It’s refreshing, tasty, feels good going down, and can accompany our cuisine as if they were both made for each other. That’s not far from the truth. 

Our part of the world has been late to the craft beer game and we are still not in the big leagues, but those craft breweries that are here are doing very good work. When the beer hits the taps or is available by the can in the stores, it’s fresh and has not traveled far. Plus the local craft beers have been designed and brewed by our neighbors usually using local ingredients. That all counts. 

Abita Brewing took on the mantle of heir to the throne of New Orleans’ long-time local brewing traditions, following a long and illustrious string of in-town breweries which dominated this town for over a hundred years. When Dixie Beer went down that was a sad day for history but not much was lost to quality. They were truly not good at the end. Pretty much same was true of Jax in the latter part of their local presence. 

Quick rundown of local breweries: Abita Brewing, NOLA (which stands for New Orleans Lager and Ale Brewing, not necessarily the usual shorthand for our town’s initials), Courtyard Brewing (Lower Garden District), 40 Arpent Brewing Company (Arabi), Covington Brewhouse, Tin Roof Brewing (Baton Rouge),  Bayou Teche Brewery (Arnaudville), Great Raft Brewing (Shreveport), and Lazy Magnolia (Kiln, Mississippi). Also noteworthy are brewpubs Gordon Biersch and Crescent City Brewhouse, both creating beer on the premises but not selling outside of their establishment, thanks to a very stupid state law. 

As to matching beer and food, in general, match strength for strength. Obviously a heavy stout would do better with a big tasting steak than lighter soup. Find aroma and taste harmonies. Think in terms of what the food features, like nuttiness or cream in cheeses, and choose the beer accordingly. Focus on aspects and individual qualities. Carbonation, sugar, bitter, and spice can all be attributes of both the dish and the beer. 

And while general rules are made to be stretched, maybe even broken, some of the fun is in the research and discovery. Don’t just sit down with guests and expect to hit a home run with combinations. Beforehand purchase a diverse group of beers and prepare the food you are likely to be serving. Taste all the possible combinations, starting with the lightest from each category and moving on to the heavy stuff. Find your own favorites and feature them on your table. 

 

Okay, let’s hit the high points of what should work, but then we are expecting you to find out on your own if it works for you. 

 

Blonde Ale – chicken salad, salmon, Monterey Jack cheese

Pale Ale – wide variety of prepared cuisine, meat pie, fish & chips, mild English cheese

Classic Pilsner – chicken, salmon, lighter sausage like bratwurst, mild white cheese

American Wheat Ale – very light foods, sushi, salad, Buffalo Mozzarella

India Pale Ale – spicy food, curry, cheddar cheese

Red Ale – hamburgers, fried chicken, fried seafood, tangy cheese like Port-Salut

Brown Ale – pork, heavy meat dishes, smoked salmon, sausage, nut and walnut cakes

Old or Strong Ales – roast beef, lamb, game, cannoli and toffee-based desserts

Stout – very big dishes like barbecue, hearty Szechuan fare, foie gras, buttery and aged cheeses

Oktoberfest, Vienna – Mexican cuisine, hearty spicy fare, coconut flan, almond biscotti

 

Two things you should take from all this beer-and-cuisine talk: 1) Beer does pair nicely with a wide range of cuisines and dishes because beer itself comes in a wide range of aromas and flavors. 2) You have a lot of research to accomplish. Better get started. 

 

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Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com