THE FOODIE FILES: Frothy Unions
Five things I learned at the Brewpub about pairing beer with food.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – It would not be exactly correct to say that I never drink beer. If I am floating down the Snake River on a hot summer day and there’s nothing else to drink, I’ll have a beer. If I’m in a developing country where I wouldn’t drink the water and wine is not on the menu, I’ll order a beer. Or if I’m heading out to fish all day with girlfriends, I may throw a can of beer in the back of my fishing vest because I just haven’t gotten on board with canned wine yet.
In my narrow, wine-centric foodie world, beer is meant to quench thirst but does not enhance the enjoyment of food.
It took an eight-course Brewmaster’s Dinner at Snake River Brewing to change my mind about pairing food with beer. I have long been a fan of the Brewpub, as we locals like to call our hometown brewery/restaurant. Not only is the Brewpub family-owned and operated by Noa and Ted Staryck, the staff make it feel like you’ve walked into the living room of one happy, beer-swilling family. Exuberant, friendly people are always on hand to greet you at the door. A solid team behind the scenes includes Chris Erickson, director of brewing operations for the last 20 years, and executive chef Ryan Brogan, who has been cooking food from scratch in the Brewpub kitchen for more than 15 years.
When I dine at the Brewpub, I usually order its famous warm beet salad and a glass of sauvignon blanc. Lame, I know—to order a mediocre glass of wine when dining at a brewery twice named Small Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado, with an impressive list of award-winning microbrews.
As I took my seat at the Brewmaster’s Dinner last month, I brought an open mind and an empty stomach. But when Erickson began pouring me a tall glass of Pako’s IPA to accompany the roasted pork belly tataki, kimchi and red microbeets, I held up my hand and said, “Just a taste. I don’t love IPA.”
In my limited experience drinking hoppy IPA beers, I have been turned off by the bitter flavor profile. If you’ve been living under a rock, as I apparently have, during the last 10 years of a microbrew revolution, IPA stands for India Pale Ale—a hop-forward beer of mid-range alcohol content with earthy and herbal flavors and overtones of citrus.
To make a long story short, I proceeded to be surprised and delighted by every course that came out of Dorgan’s kitchen as his team (Thomas Arena, Eric Navratil, and Shawn Smith) presented plate after beautiful plate. With some guidance from Erickson, I grasped why the Blood Orange Pakito’s IPA’s fruitiness was a perfect match for the semi-cured salmon and hamachi with fennel, picholine olives, blood orange, pistachios, beet, pickled ginger and shallots. And why a bitter stout pairs with a chocolate and berry-drenched profiterole as well as any old aged port wine.
I had a huge “Aha!” moment when tasting the Pakos’ IPA with the pork belly tataki. The flavor of the meat tamed the bitterness of the beer and brought out other herbal, caramel flavors I had never noticed. Remember me, the one who doesn’t like IPAs? I stand corrected; I just wasn’t drinking them right.
Thanks to Snake River Brewing for my newly discovered love for bitter brews and fruity ales. I’ll keep these rules in mind as I dream up a few beer and food pairings of my own.
The brewed beta
1. The hops in beer (like in an IPA) function like the acid component in wine (as in sauvignon blanc) and can cut through the richness of a dish. Hoppy IPAs pair well with creamy Indian curries and grilled meats, especially if that meat has a crust of caramelization to bring out the caramel malt in the beer.
2. For a multi-course beer pairing dinner, start with light bodied beers (lager, pilsner, wheat) and progress to heavier, more complex ones (stout, porter).
3. Match like with like to evoke a pleasant echo in the food and beer. When the fruity Blood Orange Pakito’s IPA picks up the ginger and blood orange elements in Drogan’s hamachi dish, there’s a nice synchronization of flavors.
4. Match contrasting flavors to highlight the differences between the food and beer. Pairing an assertive stout with a berry and chocolate dessert works because the yin-yang of sweet and bitter enhances both the food and the beer.
5. Just like wine (and coffee), beer is all about aroma. To experience the full flavor of the beer, pour it into a proper glass, stick your nose in it, and inhale all the aromas as you swirl it around. PJH
Annie Fenn is a physician with a passion for food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Her current mission? Spreading the word about how to cook and eat to prevent dementia. Find recipes and stories at jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.