Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 3 C's....we're not talking diamonds, we're talking beer

Cut, Complement and Contrast. The 3 C's which make beer so great with food. Heck you could make it four, Carbonation, no, make that 5, add Cleanse. But those last two are really components of Cut.

Cut and Cleanse are basically the same in cleanse your palate; cut or remove the fat and oils on your tongue so that each bite of food tastes as good as the first. Beer's low alcohol content, and carbonation both help to accomplish this. It is one of the great advantages beer has over other beverages when enjoyed with a meal.

Complement and Contrast refer to the taste profiles in the beer and in the food it is paired with. In some combinations the beer helps bring out qualities of the food because of the complementary or similar flavors between the beer and the food. In the case of roasted meats and baked breads, beer has a distinct advantage over most drinks due to the Maillard browning reaction. The Maillard reaction is a chemical change to the sugars  and amino acids in meats and grains when heated. Beer due to the malt (basically roasted barley) contains a similar caramelized flavor - complementing or bringing out the same flavors in food. Contrast is the opposite, different tastes that enhance the other. Berry Weiss with chocolate. Mild lagers with spicy foods.

But the best part of beer and food pairings is that there are no firm guidelines. No societal standards like white wine with fish or any of the other "rules" the wine world has defined. Increasingly chefs are cooking with beer. Experimenting with food and beer parings.

Had another work-related opportunity to attend a beer and food dinner. Formal 6 course. At the Merkat Restaurant in Chicago's Blackhorse Hotel. A collaboration between Merkat's chef, Jose Garces, along with Ryan Johnson and Grant Holtackers, trade brewers for Tenth and Blake Beer Company. With each course, the Chef and one of the brewers explained both the food and the beer.

 This was the third beer and food dinner I'd attended this year (other two written up here). As with the others, the meal began with Blue Moon Belgian White (5.4% abv, 17 IBU) paired with the salad course. The coriander and citrus in the Blue Moon make it great with both salads and seafood. Also learned that night that Blue Moon differs from Belgian tradition by using Valencia oranges in the recipe versus curacao oranges.

Chef Garces had used some of the Blue Moon in the dressing. Spicy almonds added a nice touch to the Serrano ham and figs.

A seafood course followed Halibut con Chorizo paired with Batch 19 (5.5% ABV, 26IBU), a beer brewed with a recently discovered pre-prohibition recipe. Hoppy, with a caramelized color and taste.

Our table was split on this course. Half thought this was their favorite course, for me, my least favorite of the food courses. A nice pairing, beer was quite good, as was the fish. I just enjoyed the other courses more.

The next course listed on the menu was a mystery on first read. Leinenkugel Fireside Nut Brown paired with Tocino con Cidre. Huh? Translated a yummy house cured pork belly w/ a parsnip puree and black truffle, apple, cabbage slaw. The Nut Brown (4.9% ABV, 13IBU) has a complex malt character with hints of roasted coffee, chocolate and hazelnut. Not surprising from the lower IBU little noticeable hop flavor.

Next up was a Black Angus hanger steak paired with Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell.  Pilsner Urquell (4.4 ABV, 40IBU) is often considered one of the most influential if not one of the finest beers on the planet. It was the first golden beer, first pilsner style. Urquell means from the original source. Hoppy, bitter. Strong flavors to accompany this strong meat.

A cheese course followed, paired surprisingly with Guinness Stout. Not surprising from a food/beer pairing perspective, but because this is not a Tenth and Blake product. Guinness Stout is one of the world's most respected beers. It was a nice treat to taste this beer once again. I don't often drink beers from other brewers and companies (am making an effort to try other beers on a more regular basis, expand my beer palate so to speak) Each time I drink this beer I am fascinated by how the deep roast and malty-ness masks the high bitterness of the beer (40IBU). Great with the cheese. This and the pork belly course were my two favorites. More and more I love cheese courses with good artisan cheeses.

Last up was dessert. The classic chocolate and berry combination. Sheep's cheese berry cheesecake with chocolate croquettes paired of course with Leinenkugel's Berry Weiss. Yummy finish.

Great dinner from the Merkat and Tenth and Blake folks. Thankfully after all that great food and great beer, all I needed to do was ride an elevator to my room. Far too stuffed and sated to do much else!

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