Sunday, November 05, 2006

Joe Sixpack: Beer and Fine Food

One of my favorite topics. The best treatment on the topic I've read is Garret Oliver's the Brewmaster's Table.
Just look at what diners pull out of those Thermos bags at your neighborhood BYO. Half of 'em are beer-drinkers, I'll bet, who wouldn't know pinot noir from peanut chews. But sit 'em down at a white tablecloth and they go all "vin du blah-blah, s'il vous plait" on ya.

Part of the reason, I think, is our still-narrow view of beer: a frosty pitcher of Coors Light. Somehow the suds you knocked back while enjoying the game at the corner bar seem uncouth in one of those places where they put an extra fork in front of you.

Dinner is a perfect opportunity to try one of those freaky, upscale bottles you've been avoiding all these years. A Belgian lambic, an American imperial stout - these are unusual, hugely flavored beers that a Yuengling drinker might not touch with a 10-foot pole. Maybe the first time you cracked one open, it blew out your taste buds and sent you limping home to the safety of your boring macro.

But pour a glass of Stone Double Bastard - a strong ale that even the most devout hophead swallows with caution - then enjoy it with a grilled filet in a red wine shallot sauce. Both the food and the drink improve. The mouth-puckering bitterness of the beer is softened by the sweetness of the beef's glaze, even as the spiciness of the hops brings out the meatiness of the steak.

Finding the right match is not brain surgery.

The lighter the dish, the lighter the beer. A pilsner or blonde ale goes well with seafood, a heavier stout or double bock complements beef or Mexican. (There's a great cheat sheet from beer writer Stan Hieronymous in "The Beer Guide by," to be released next week by Savory House Press.)

Experiment a bit. At their best, beer and the food complement each other so well, as Milwaukee chef Sanford D'Amato told me, "You come up with a third flavor where the sum is greater than its parts."

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