Skip to content

What kind of Snobbery is a Beer/Food Pairing?

Saison and Sandwich. It even sounds like it goes together.
Saison and Sandwich. It even sounds like it goes together.

Is it really necessary? Doesn’t a Budweiser, like iced water, go with anything? Is this the kind of twisted Chefery that results in a food truck trying to sell me a curried pork belly soft taco with béchamel sauce and pickled strawberries? Well – no, and yes. Hear me out, because this “pairing” thing is actually simpler than you’d think.

In this article, I’ll discuss the Beancurdturtle method for pairing. The basis comes from research into chefery and flavorist snobby things, years of tottering about in the kitchen, and years of hovering over a hot brew kettle. I’ll distill it all down into three different types of pairings, and an example of how they might work. Then wrap it up with an invitation to join me at a restaurant where I’ve put together a list of eight pairings of Belgian beer with Italian food (of the North-Americanized ilk).

What all this pairing stuff really is, is combinations of flavors and aromas from different sources that result in something easy to appreciate, something exciting, and sometimes something complex and bold. I break it down three ways; You’ve got comfort pairings, complimentary pairings, and contrast pairings.

A comfort pairing is in large part a cultural or regional thing, it’s closely tied to knowing your audience. It’s simple flavors and aromas that we are so used to being together that it “just works”. A simple example of a comfort pairing would be Mac and Cheese. Mac and Cheese is easy to appreciate, un-complex and usually well accepted even by folks not familiar with the flavors.

A complimentary pairing is a combination of flavors and aromas wherein the contributors have a broad base of similar characters. A complimentary pairing can be exciting, “Oh yes, this is nice together!” But the closeness of the marriage of characters should be universally apparent. An obvious example of a complimentary pairing would be coffee and chocolate.

A contrast pairing is trickier and more dangerous than the others. First the balance of contrasting flavors needs to be right. Second, the individual palate of the taster has a big role to play in the success of the pairing. A good example is lemonade – sweet and sour. The same batch of well mixed lemonade will be too sweet for some, too sour for others, but pretty darn pleasing to a bunch of folks between them. Yet the contrast pairing provides the greatest opportunity to present something complex, bold, even divisive – think Hawaiian Pizza, Tom Yum Gai soup, or Mexican Mole sauce.

Now I’ve defined my three classes for pairing, then attached the pairing classes to some familiar foods. For a beer food pairing you just need to wrap the concepts of comfort, complimentary, and contrast pairing around a beverage and food together. Of course, you also should have a discerning palate and sensitivity for aroma, and be familiar with the aroma and flavor characters of a bunch of different beers, dishes, and ingredients. Which means you need to taste a lot of beer, and try many different dishes. So get on that right now.

In the meantime though – if you’d like to test this strategy at a great little Italian American restaurant with a terrific beer selection – haul your behind over to Alza Osteria in Brea and try one of these pairings on for size:

• Brasserie d’Orval – Orval Trappist Ale with Pescatore
• Brouwerij Westmalle – Trappist Dubbel with Penne Calabrese
• Brasserie Dupont – Saison Dupont with Chicken Piccata
• Trappist Achel – Bruin with Blonde Lasagna
• Chimay – Grande Reserve Blue with Sausage & Peppers (pasta)
• Brouwerij Huyghe – Delirium Tremens with Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
• Brouwerij Lindemans – Framboise with Grilled Chicken Strawberry (salad)
• Fantome/Beancurdturtle – Ghost Turtle with Linguine Puttanesca