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When A Wine Pairing Beats A Beer Pairing

April 15, 2016

Exploring the wide world of beer is a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to Hudson Valley Hops tomorrow at the Albany Institute of History and Art. Tickets are available at the door, and I should probably note that Yelp is a sponsor.

But these are always great opportunities to try and taste a bunch of beers and glean some deeper knowledge or appreciation of a beer or two. The beers that stand out at festivals are typically not the ones of delicacy, grace, or ballance. Rather, they are the ones that hit you over the head and wake up your palate from the chore of sampling beer for hours.

At the New York Craft Brewers Festival at The Desmond Hotel, that beer was Druther’s Double Dare, which was a double gose. Interestingly, it’s not a style of beer I typically enjoy. But after a couple of hours of drinking lots of good local beer, the Double Dare made me stop and say, “wow.”

This is very similar to what happens at wine festivals.

It may not win me very many friends in the beer world or the wine world, but I continue to insist that these two very different beverages are more similar than most people think. Although there are a few key differences.

A while back, I was eager to hear about people’s thoughts about beer and food pairings. After a few months of experimentation, I’m back to share a revised hypothesis or two on the subject.

The original question was looking for mind blowing beer and food pairings.

We talked about how fundamentally beer is more food friendly than wine. Part of that is due to its carbonation. Bubbles help to wash food away and cleanse the palate. It’s one reason people say that champagne goes with everything, from burritos and barbeque to oysters and foie gras. A good sparkling wine can really hit the spot.

Bubbles are key.

But there are a few other elements of wine that don’t get enough credit when it comes to their ability to make brilliant food pairings. One is the fruitiness of the wine, and either its perception as being sweet or actual sweetness. The idea of a “dry red wine” is usually a misnomer, as most are actually not that dry. Here’s an interesting chart.

It’s that juiciness or fruitiness of many wines that plays so well with the savory notes in food to make brilliant pairings. Think about the cassis in cabernet sauvignon and a well-charred and seasoned steak. Or the dark cherries in a good pinot noir that go so well with a funky wild mushroom risotto. Tannins and acidity are important to add structure and balance, in addition to preparing your mouth for its next bite. However, from a flavor perspective, the fruit is really important.

But there is another thing going on with wine too, and that’s its intensity. Yes, there are low alcohol wines, and they can be lovely with food. But they are more refreshing to sip on the patio after mowing the lawn.

Perhaps then, it’s no coincidence that my favorite beer pairings to date happen to be the ones that have both higher ABVs and heavier malt profiles.

Now, I suppose you could say that perhaps that’s just my own palate craving a more familiar wine-like experience when sitting down to a beer dinner. And that would certainly be an interesting argument. But I don’t think it has to do with expectations. That said, it may have something to do with exposure to what a spectacular pairing can taste like.

How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm once they’ve seen Karl Hungus?

Actually, looking back on this list of mind blowing beer pairing recommendations, there’s decidedly a higher than random number of high alcohol, sweeter beers on that list. I recently tried the Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout with some gorgonzola from The Cheese Traveler. And the two went together perfectly fine. But if I were looking for a brilliant pairing, a good Gewurztraminer or a classic port would have been better choices.

Fortunately, I’m still in the early knowledge-gathering stages, and I’m already starting to grow tired of the modern, juicy, grapefruit-forward IPAs. Not that they aren’t delicious, nor would I ever dream of turning down a brilliant one, it’s just that the ubiquity of the style is alarming. I know people are getting excited about sour beer right now. I kind of wonder what people will be excited about after that.

My hope of hopes is that it’s beer of delicacy, balance, and finesse. Of course I say that having just bought six packs of Lagunitas Waldo’s Special Ale and Oskar Blues Old Chub Scotch Ale. One is big. The other is a monster. And they are both a lot of fun.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s what this should all be about. And it would be fun, if I didn’t feel like there were so many beers to drink and not enough lifetimes to try them all. Not that trying them once really even counts. But that’s another story.

One Comment leave one →
  1. MikeH permalink
    April 15, 2016 6:03 pm

    Sipping wine after mowing the lawn? That’s just crazy talk.

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