Some of my favorite brewery events are food and beer pairings. Years ago, for our anniversary we attended a dinner with Martin House at the Flying Saucer. Four courses paired with a different core beer from the brewery. It was fantastic and very well done. We were hooked! From doughnuts to tamales, girl scout cookies to Halloween candy, there are now pairings across the metroplex almost every weekend. They are fun events that appeal to the beer nerds and beer novices alike.

The first time I was charged with creating a beer pairing for a group of people I was completely overwhelmed. It was a Halloween candy and craft beer pairing at Steam Theory Brewing for our local Girls Pint Out Chapter. Something that was supposed to be so fun had me freaking out at night as I researched and prepared the pairings. I think I have a pretty good palate and I’m studying to be a Certified Cicerone so this is a skill I will be using often, but I honestly had no clue what I was doing. I was sure it was going to be a disaster. But in the end, the event went great and as it turns out, I stressed myself out for no reason. It was then that I realized that pairing food and beer doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it seemed and certainly didn’t require an advanced level of education in the topic.

I believe that pairing food and beer can be simplified and explained in a way that almost anyone can do it. When it comes to setting up a pairing you are really trying to accomplish just two things, that the beer brings out something in the food and that the food brings out something in the beer. 

The flavors can compliment each other or contrast each other. An example of this is from a class I took this past week in prep for the Cicerone exam and was taken out of the book by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley mentioned at the end of this article. We were given four beers; a German Style Hefeweizen, An American IPA, an American Imperial Stout, and a German Style Marzen/Oktoberfest. We were also given four different foods. Each beer was paired with two different foods so we could really examine the food and beer interaction. The German Style Hefeweizen was paired first with Raspberry Jam. My experience--and everyone’s was different--was that the Hefeweizen made the jam super sweet but that particular Hefeweizen leaned more toward the banana side. We then paired the same Hefeweizen with key lime pie. I found that again the Hefeweizen brought out the sweetness and toned down the tartness of the key lime.

However, the key lime pie flipped the Hefeweizen which now seemed less creamy and emphasized the spicy clove phenols. We continued around the pairing using an American IPA paired with the key lime pie and 3 yr. aged cheddar, an Imperial Stout paired with the aged cheddar and dark chocolate covered pecans, and finally a German Style Marzen paired with the dark chocolate covered pecans. Each pairing changed the flavor and texture of the food and/or beer in a pleasant and noticeable way. Not every combination was one I enjoyed and that’s okay too. I was able to appreciate what each pairing brought forth and walked away learning more about the beer that was showcased.

So, what do you need to create a food and beer pairing of your own? Here are my tips and tricks to get you started. Start with beers you know really well. Is there a staple in your beer fridge that you go to when you just want to drink something solid? Start there. Save the rare limited releases for another time. Now start thinking about that beer. Enjoy a few. Don’t shotgun it but sit down and take a sip and let it linger on your tongue. What are the obvious and not so obvious flavors that you pick up? Is there a food that has those similar flavors? What about a food that has an opposite flavor such as sweet and salty. I like to keep my pairings to four beers and out of the four, I will keep three rather easy and then one that really pushes the limits of my guests. Make sure you provide water and possibly flavorless oyster crackers so that you can cleanse your palate between pairings. You want to first taste the beer, clear your palate, taste the food, and then taste them together. It really is that easy. Don’t be afraid to really test something out. Not all pairings will be home runs, but the fun is in the experimentation and the conversation that ensues. You can learn quite a bit about flavors, your ability to detect them, and your preferences in a short period of time.

If you want to learn more there are two books I highly recommend, The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver and Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley.

--Sandra DiPretore
Cicerone Certified Beer Server, Homebrewer, and Tireless Recipe Researcher