Earlier this week, Miss Mojito had the chance to take a break from her cocktail-imbibing to partake in a most delectable beer tasting dinner that paired Dogfish Head Beers with a delicious menu at Comfort Restaurant in Richmond (read more about it here). An evening full of new and exciting beers got me thinking about how I can integrate more beer into my tasting repertoire.
For me, one of the best part’s of the evening (beside the great food and drink) was hearing from the chef and the rep from Dogfish on why that had picked a particular dish to pair with a particular beer. They chose beers that would show how far beer is willing to go to shock the palate with different flavors. These were not your everyday beers we were tasting. Most had high alcohol contents of around 9 percent alcohol-by-volume or higher (in fact, Dogfish specializes in beers with high alcohol content). And all had flavors that I’d never sampled before in a beer.
Another goal of this kind of pairing dinner, they explained, was to give beer validity, a goal they accomplished in spades. Before this dinner, my most sophisticated beer pairings usually involved pizza or hamburgers. Don’t get me wrong: these are still combinations that are close to my heart (or, in this case, stomach). But it was eye-opening to sip a different ale alongside some truly gourmet cuisine, and to imagine what types of dishes I could throw together myself that would bring out a beer’s flavor.
Most of us are familiar with the traditional (and, some might say, outdated) rules for pairing wine and food: white with fish, red with beef. But a beer pairing allows for a bit more freedom. While in many wine pairings the goal is to contrast the flavors, in beer pairing, I learned, the goal is more frequently to mimic the food’s flavors. In this past Tuesday’s menu, for example, the chef chose venison to accompany the juniper flavors in the Sah’Tea ale. Juniper is a classic pairing for the venison because it compliments the clean flavors of the meat, and the beer pairing follows the same rules. A shrimp dish with arugula and preserved lemon salad was served alongside of an equally acidic beer, the Festina Peach. This seasonal beer is intentionally tart (from lactic acid), and is closer in style to a cider or even a champagne. The acid in the beer complemented the acid from the preserved lemons in the salad.
What are some other rules for pairing beer with food? Spicy and bold flavors pair particularly well with beer, because they can stand up to the heat or heaviness. But really, beer pairing is a world open to experimentation. Check out this great Web site that addresses the subject: Destinationbeer.com. Another excellent resource is the book He Said Beer, She Said Wine, which explores and compares different types of pairings from the points of view of a sommelier (Marnie Old) and a brewmaster (Sam Calagione).
When it rains it pours, and on August 17, TJ’s Restaurant here in Richmond will host another beer tasting menu, together with Terrapin Beer. Slated for this menu are mussels and a farmhouse ale, pork raviolinis and a rye pale ale, horseradish crusted beef and an Indian brown ale and (perhaps most enticing, in Miss Mojito’s opinion), Nutella and brioche bread pudding with a vintage coffee oatmeal stout. Pretty tempting, huh? It might just be the excuse I need to put my new lessons learned to the test! (If you plan on being in the Richmond area on the 17th, be sure to give TJ’s a call to reserve your spot for the $60, all inclusive dinner: 804-649-4672.)
Miss Menu wants to know: Do you have any beer pairing experience? What’s your favorite beer to serve with a meal? Share your feedback in the comments area below!
Posted by Miss Mojito.