I was lucky enough to attend the “Principles of Beer and Food Pairing” seminar last night at Just Grapes, a wine school and wine shop conveniently located in the Loop. The seminar was just one event of many that Just Grapes hosts; every Saturday brings a complimentary wine tasting and their “Global Grapes” series focuses on different wines found throughout the world.
This particular event concentrated on the relationship between beer and food, a concept that I really haven’t explored before. Sure, I’ve had Kingfisher with mouth-numbing Indian food, Duvel with mussels, and Sapporo with sushi, but those combinations were usually the result of pairing regional cuisine with indigenous beer.
Paramount Room Beverage Director and beer sommelier Shawn Koch and Executive Chef Stephen Dunne (also of Volo) lent their talents for the evening. Koch led an interesting discussion on the origins of beer (“Beer is as old as civilization itself, possibly even pre-dating bread!”), and then food was paraded out, course by course.
Some stellar pairings included smoked trout, bitter greens, and caper raisin aioli with Wittekerke Wit Beer, steak tartare with Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, and a toffee-crusted chocolate brownie paired with Delirium Tremens.
Culinary misses were few and far between, but sadly did include “Cabbage Stuffed Cabbage” with an off-putting corned beef vinaigrette, which didn’t seem to pair well with any of the suggested beers (Kasteel Belgium Brown, Alpha King IPA, and Anchor Porter) and a scotch quail egg, which when combined with overwhelming flavors of anise and grain mustard, overshadowed the beer pairing of Blackthorn Cider.
All in all, the experience was interesting and satisfying, and I learned about the “3 C’s:” cut, compliment, and contrast. Shawn Koch says:
When pairing food with beer, ask yourself whether there is fat, oiliness, or heavy spice in the dish that a crisp beer could cut through? Are there aromatics in the dish that may match with some aromatic nuances in the beer? Are there bold flavors in the food that can be balanced by contrasting flavors in the beer? Certain pairings are successful while some aren’t. The pleasure of a nice pairing is great, but experimenting (and failing) is part of the fun!
*Originally Published in Gapers Block.