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Beer and Food 

Photos and text by Owen Ogletree

Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery
I have always been impressed with Garrett Oliver, partner and head brewer at the Brooklyn Brewery in New York.  Garrett's knowledge of beer styles and brewing is extraordinary.  Garrett has appeared on "Emeril Live" and "Martha Stewart Living" where he discussed the merits of beer and food pairings.  I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Garrett at the 2002 Craft Brewers Conference in Cleveland, OH.  Following are some random notes from this talk.

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Commercial Beers -- Blind Tasting Comments...

  • 1000 years ago when the French took over England for a short while, they convinced everyone that everything French is more refined and more appealing.  The idea that wine is superior to beer is still believed by many today.  This is just not true.
  • Beer has more styles and variety of flavor components than wine.  Beer's history is just as full and rich as wine's.

Garrett Oliver at the Brooklyn Brewery
table at the 2001 Great American Beer Festival.
  • Beer's carbonation is a great palate cleanser -- it lifts flavors off the tongue like champagne.
  • Wheat beers and Belgian Wit beers are great with brunch -- their mild flavors compliment the foods on a typical brunch spread.
  • The earthy flavors of mushrooms go well with rich, malty beers.
  • The bitterness of a beer is easily compared to the bitter tannins in wine.  Any foods that go well with a dry, tannin-rich red wine will also go well with a dry, hoppy Pale Ale.
  • Thai food is delicious with the citrusy, resiny flavors of American hops.  Lime compliments Thai food, and many compare the taste of Cascade hops with grapefruit and other citrus.
  • Double Bocks and German Rauch (smoked) Beers are excellent with good Mexican foods.  Earthy black beans and roasted chilis blend well with these rich lagers. 
  • Dishes that have slight sweetness are perfectly matched with sweet, malty beers.  Examples:  pizza with an Amber/Brown Ale, scallops with a Porter, fish with orange sauce along with a Belgian Wit (made with orange peel and coriander), poached or steamed seafood with a Belgian Wit, fried/sauteed/caramelized foods with an caramely English Bitter.
  • The acidity of a Wheat Beer is wonderful with an acidic salad.
  • Spicy foods turn wine flavors hot, but beer goes extremely well with spicy foods.  Foods flavored with cilantro and lime are delightful with a bitter American Ale.
  • Hoppy American Ales also are great alongside a dish of salmon.
  • Champagne and caviar are horrible together -- the caviar makes the wine taste fishy.  Next time, try a dry, hoppy Pilsner with caviar -- yum!
  • Duck with a raisiny, sweet, fruity sauce is scrumptious with a Fruit Beer (especially one with cherries) or a dark Trappist Ale (with plum and raisin flavors from fermentation).
  • Desserts are best with a rich, malty Stout or a beer made with real fruit (Fruit Beers made with extracts usually lack flavor and depth).  But Fruit Beers with fruit desserts is a combination that does NOT work well.  Fruit Beers do go well with chocolate, and a sour Belgian Framboise (raspberry) Lambic is like heaven with a slice of cheese cake.
  • Garrett Oliver recently conducted a tasting that compared how wines and beers match with many cheeses.  The tasting panel included both beer and wine enthusiasts, chefs, and food authors and critics.  The beer and cheese combinations WON!  Beers are fantastic with cheese.  Experiment with different beers and cheeses and find complex, unified combinations that suit your palate.  Search out top quality cheeses that are authentic from their countries of origin and pair them with fresh, craft brewed beers.  For a list of beer and cheese pairing suggestions, see Owen Ogletree's beer and cheese page.
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