Great Mates: Pairing Beer and Food for Summer Dining

Still Life with a keg of beer and draft beer by the glass. For the past 20 years, I’ve experimented with food and wine pairings, and found some pretty interesting combinations. Like lots of people, I had never thought too hard about food and beer pairings—at least not far beyond beer and sausages!

Beer and food pairing is just like wine and food pairing. Generally, the goal is that the beer and food complement each other, and the combination of the two is something greater than the two things separately. Jonathan Brunnelson, the owner of Brew Knows, a beer and wine store in downtown Moneta that opened in January, lends his expertise on the subject. “Beer pairing is fun, and truly trying any style with any food is okay,” he says.

But to go about beer and food pairing systematically, first think about the biggest flavor in the dish you’re trying to match. Then think about what flavor may complement it. The three most basic flavors of beer are sweetness (from barley), bitterness (from hops) and bread (from yeast). Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, because hops can taste earthy, malty, herbal or citrusy, the barley is sometimes roasted or even smoked, and other flavors may be added in, like fruit or tea! Sound complicated? We made a chart (at right) to simplify some of these flavors and styles, but if you are still confused, the best way to decipher your options is to do some tasting yourself.

Host a beer and food pairing at your house and experiment yourself. Make a few dishes from the chart and buy a few different styles of cheese, and offer a wide range of beers. Try different combinations, and debate why certain things go together better than others. You’ll find that like everything else, there is no definitive answer, just your own preference. But that’s what makes trying and comparing fun.

We’ve included a few recipes along with beers chosen by Brunnelson (thank you, Jonathan!). Use this as a start for some summer fun!

BEERbKorean Ribs (each rack serves four)
Pair with a pilsner (Try Chukker from Old Bust Head, Vint Hill, Virginia)

My family loves this sauce. We end up using it on lots of other things—like brushing it on thick-cut bacon before cooking it in the oven. Chop and use as garnish for salads or soup. The sauce recipe is enough for about three racks of ribs, and will keep for a month in your fridge.

For the ribs:
1 rack St. Louis-style pork ribs
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
BEER2bBEER2a1 jalapeno, minced
For the sauce:
½ cup honey
½ cup brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapenos, minced
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger, minced
½ small onion, diced
½ cup hoisin sauce
½ cup ketchup
1 cup soy sauce
½ cup unseasoned rice wine
½ cup leftover coffee
2 tablespoons oyster sauce

Use a knife to loosen the edge of the heavy silverskin on the bony side of the ribs. Using a paper towel, grasp the corner of the silverskin and peel it away from the whole piece. Place the ribs in a large glass dish. Mix the remaining ingredients and slather over the ribs. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for 4-8 hours.

Transfer the ribs to a sheet pan with sides, and bake at 400 degrees for about two hours. (Recipe can be completed ahead to this point.)

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan. Cook until the volume is reduced by half, about 20-30 minutes. Let cool slightly. Puree until smooth with a blender or immersion blender.

When the ribs have cooked, finish them quickly on a hot grill (or under the broiler),
by brushing with sauce. Be careful not to let the sauce burn. Serve additional sauce on the side.

BEERhSoft Shell Crabs with Succotash (Serves four)
Pair with a Hefeweizen/wheat Beer
(Try The Love from Starr Hill, Charlottesville, Virginia)

Soft shells are available from May through the middle of the summer, and are one of my favorite seasonal treats. Served on a bed of vegetables, this is a light dish, but fit for company!
For crabs:
BEERf8 soft shell crabs, cleaned
2 cups milk
1 ½ cups corn meal
½ cup canola oil

For succotash:
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup each: fresh or frozen corn, chopped seeded tomato, frozen lima beans, frozen field peas, and diced sweet onion
For lemon dill butter:
1 stick butter
Succotash1Finely grated zest of a half of a lemon
Juice of a lemon
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Garnish: 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Put the crabs in a large bowl and cover with milk. Set aside to soak.
Melt butter in a large skillet. Add the vegetables and cook until cooked, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt butter. Continue to cook for about three minutes, watching carefully, until it begins to turn brown. Add lemon zest, juice and dill, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Put the corn meal in a wide flat dish. Season with salt and pepper. Drain the crabs, pierce their claws with a knife (to reduce splatter) and dredge in cornmeal, shaking off the excess. Fry the crabs in the hot oil, about 8 minutes total. Remove to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Wipe out the sauté pan and repeat until all the crabs have been cooked.

Reheat succotash if necessary. Sprinkle with parsley and plate the mixture. Place crabs on top of vegetables and drizzle with lemon dill butter. Serve hot.

BEERdGrilled Vegetable Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette
(serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main course)
Pair with a German-style lager
(Try Gold Leaf from Devils Backbone, Lexington, Virginia)
I used to flinch at anchovies, but the flavor of them adds such a nice depth to this dressing. I’m a convert!

2 tablespoons anchovy paste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
BEERe1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup good quality olive oil
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 small eggplant
1 red pepper
Olive oil
4 generous cups mesclun mix
¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese

Combine first four ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well, season with salt and pepper and set aside. Slice zucchini, squash and eggplant lengthwise into about 1/3-inch slices. Cut the core out of the pepper and cut into four large pieces. Remove ribs and seeds. Brush vegetables lightly with olive oil and salt and pepper. Cook on a grill or stovetop grill pan about two minutes each side, until limp and cooked. Let cool slightly and cut into bite-sized pieces.
In a large bowl, toss the greens with about half of the vinaigrette. Top with vegetables; drizzle with remaining dressing and sprinkle with cheese.

Ale – Moderate tang, toasty, spicy aroma – Burgers (especially with cheddar cheese), pizza
Lager – Smooth, slightly tangy, clean flavor  – Lighter foods, seafood, shellfish, sushi, vegetables, curries
Pilsner – Simple with light grain and hops and a clean finish – Chicken, salads, Asian food, salmon
Porter  –  Roasted flavor with nutty, toasty characteristics  – Roasted or smoked meats, barbecue, bacon, chili, meat stews
Stout  –  Dry, intense, with roasted coffee and chocolate notes – Hearty food, roasted, smoked or barbecued meats, desserts
Hefeweizen  –  Crisp, milk, light, sometimes citrusy – Lighter foods, salad, seafood, shellfish
Bock  –  Caramel, coffee and toasted malt  – Spicy foods, sausage, lamb
Lambic  –  Dry, light, fruity, sometimes tart –  Creamy or buttery dishes, pastries