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Food & Beer

A Happy Wedding

Like people, and like wines, beers are often enjoyed more fully when they are happily wedded. It is often said that a wine might be good by itself, b

ut that it w

ill be great with food. The same applies to beer. Food helps stimulate the palate, drawing out a beer’s complexity and accenting flavors by either contrast or similarity. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a beer all by itself. Some of my most rewarding beer experiences have involved simply myself and a merciful glass of beer at the end of a taxing day.

Food often serves to put beer in its proper setting. That is, some beers naturally seem to go well with certain dining provisions. Some make exquisite apertifs, say a dryish and hoppy IPA, calming the nerves and calling up the appetite. Other beers, notably the complexly malty doppelbocks, make superb digestifs, with their satisfying sweetness and alcoholic warmth. Dining sensibly means taking a meal with thought, considering food in all its richness and meaning. Beer, when chosen with taste in mind, can add that much more depth to a sensuous meal.

Moreover, some gastronomic traditions insist that certain foods accompany certain beers. Many Londoners would riot if they could not get oysters served with Guinness stout. The dryness and slight tanginess of the luscious beer soothes the way for the potent bivalves. In Belgium, black pudding arrives at the table with a glass of Belgian geuze; the tartness and complexity of the beer contrasts startlingly with the dish. Of course, what devilishly chocolaty dessert wouldn’t benefit from a snifter of sinewy oatmeal stout? Or raspberry lambic? The combinations are endless and tantalizing.

Lastly, beer not only goes with a meal; it can also be in the meal. Many of our country’s finer dining establishments are discovering beer as a supple and versatile ingredient. With any luck, you might find pheasant simmered with a hearty Scottish ale, barbecued ribs brushed with saison, and even a chewy bread made with spent Munich grains straight from the mash tun. The assertive malt of heartier beers lends itself well to rich foods, while the restrained sweetness of pilseners or wheat beers, for instance, highlights more delicate dishes.

— Jeff Byles

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