Beer Dinners, and Why They’re Awesome

If you’ve ever attended a well-run beer dinner, you know the treat it is– the thoughtful pairing of beer and food.  I attended one not too long ago, featuring an extensive list of Firestone Walker’s portfolio, paired with wonderful dishes, ranging from Bavarian pretzels (with Pivo Pils) to pork belly (with Double Jack).

Beer and food pairing is an excellent creative exercise, and one Garrett Oliver goes to explain at great lengths in his book, The Brewmaster’s Table.  This is also a valuable concept to understand when studying for and taking your Cicerone exam.

For those of you who follow me and are local to Warren County, NJ, I’ll let you in on a little secret:  I’m brewing up a celebration of sorts, a beer dinner that will feature the three Hackettstown breweries all under one roof.  That’s right, Czig Meister, Man Skirt, and Jersey Girl will share the spotlight one night in the semi-near future at a location I’ll disclose as I get further along in the process.

Excited?  I know I am.

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Beer: The Most Romantic Drink of All

That high-stress relationship holiday is around the corner, and I’m sure florists, Hallmark, restaurants, and M&M Mars are poised to make a killing.  Yes, I’m referring to Valentine’s Day.  Inspired by Ms. Puckette’s article over here on her site, I feel wine is pretty well covered.  My focus will be on my first love, beer, and its ability to pair well with chocolate.

Right out of the gate, beer already has an edge over (most) wine when pairing with food- its carbonation.  Capable of cutting through rich, thick flavors and dense fat, those bubbles in beer act as a palette-cleanser.

Couple this cleansing ability with similar flavors found in chocolate, and beer is effective, versatile, and quite the complimentary beverage to chocolate.  Dark, roasty stouts and porters may contain black patent and/or chocolate specialty malts, providing flavor.  Some brewers even add chocolate itself into the recipe, as is the case with Samuel Smith Chocolate Stout made with organic cocoa.  Another option for pairing is a milk stout, such as Left Hand’s Nitro.  It’s brewed with lactose (milk sugar) which does not ferment out, leaving the beer a touch sweet.  Try milk stouts with chocolate high in cacao, to counter and soften the bitterness.

beer_and_chocolate

For those fans of spirits, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout or porter will provide a layer of depth and complexity to your chocolate pairing.  Bourbon barrels impart a dose of vanilla and caramel, plus a dryness due to the oak compounds.  Pair these brews with quality milk chocolate and experience something akin to a Milky Way Bar.

Something commonly paired with chocolate is fruit.  Combined with either white or traditional chocolate, fruit beers make excellent “chocolate-covered strawberry/cherry/raspberry” experiences.  A beer such as Founders Rübæus, or its big brother, Blushing Monk, are made with raspberry puree.  Raspberries also provide a hint of tartness, adding a balance to the rich, creaminess of chocolate.  Or, you could skip the fruit AND the chocolate, and blend a chocolate and fruit beer together, a la Samuel Smith’s strawberry and chocolate.

For the truly adventurous, perhaps something esoteric is in order.  The few of us who enjoy those whack-and-unwrap chocolate oranges, try Sierra Nevada’s Side Car (or any pale ale with hops that impart an orange flavor to the beer) with some creamy milk chocolate.

I know me and my wife will find some sort of awesome combination to celebrate this year’s romantic holiday.