Food and drink pairing used to mean a stylish sommelier with a long list of eclectic wines and the sound of uncorked bottles. Not anymore. Beer is quickly becoming the drink of choice to be paired with food and there are some winning combinations out there.
In “Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros” by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley (Voyageur Press, 2015), beer is described as the “absolute king of pairing potential.” Wine, the authors argue, has only one ingredient—grapes— while beer can be made with many different grains, from barley to rice. With such diversity, beer lends itself to food matchings more than wine does.
A local expert, Jayson Wylie, head brewer and managing partner at Taos Mesa Brewing Company, offers his insights.
“Wine is a bit more boxed in than beer when it comes to pairing with food,” he said. “A regional wine, such as Bordeaux, while delicious, prides itself on its terroir, which includes only one ingredient: grapes from the Bordeaux region, while beer has several different ingredients that produce complex flavors. This allows one style of beer to pair well with several types of food.”
When deciding which beer to pair with your meal, there are classic matches, like stout and oysters — the saltiness from the oysters and the sweetness from the stout balance each other well— but you can also be creative.
“If you look at European cultures in general, you will find many traditional combinations: schnitzel and amber lager or Oktoberfest-style beer; fish and chips with a mild English ale,” Wylie said.
But for him, the ultimate goal is to match the intensity of the beer with the intensity of the food.
“Grilled fish or chicken would pair nicely with a lighter beer, such as our Taos Mesa Kolsch or Sabor del Sol Pilsner,” he said. “On the other hand, sweet and spicy barbecue likes to match up with a bolded beer profile, such as our Taos Mesa Rojo, a beautiful red ale highly hopped with a heavy malt profile. For grilled steaks and game, our hearty Black Diamond Expert Stout and Black Widow Porter will stand up to the boldness of the meats being grilled.”
As for spicy foods, they have their own bite and acidity. Wylie recommends pairing them with a mild malty beer that is slightly sweet.
“For example, our Taos Mesa Scottish,” he said. “This offers a nice contrast and helps balance the palate.”
Two menus, many beers
Taos Mesa Brewing offers two distinct menus at each of its locations. The Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership on the mesa focuses on tacos and burgers, while the Taos Taproom in town is known for its artisanal pizza and skillet dishes, all cooked in a wood-burning oven.
“Our skillet-roasted chicken wings at the Taos Taproom have a nice Asian spice that our 3 Peaks or Mosaic IPA complement very well,” said Wylie. “The staple burger and fries at the [Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership] location pairs perfectly with any one of our pale ales.”
A trend resulting from the popularity of pairing beer and food is beer dinners. Several have been held at Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership. The brewery has also hosted beer dinners at Lambert’s of Taos.
The impact of microbrewing
The popularity of food and beer pairings owes a great deal to microbrewing, which has contributed to a better understanding of beer culture, both locally and globally.
“While the epicenters of beer have been rooted in European culture for thousands of years, in just a few decades, the craft beer movement has put America on the top of this list,” Wylie said. “This is owing to many factors, but most importantly, I feel it is the American craft brewers’ inclination to not only mimic traditional European styles, but change them to create a unique flavor profile all its own. American craft and its eclectic style have brought into mainstream popularity niche regional beer styles, such as Belgian sours and German gose, to name a few.”
A beer for every food
The complexity of beer flavors allows it to interact with a number of foods — including desserts.
“Beer shouldn’t have to play second fiddle to wine,” said Taos Mesa Brewing patron Petra Costado as she enjoyed a Black Widow Porter with a pulled pork sandwich. “I have had beer with every course, from Frito pies to flan, and it never fails to enhance the flavor of the meal. Go beer!”