Beer may not match wine when it comes to finding a place at the dinner table, but in Madison it's encouraging to see so many restaurants with great local beer selections. With its range of malty sweetness, hoppy bitterness, spiciness and yeasty-earthiness, beer offers endless pairing opportunities for meals. Here are a few ideas to guide matching a favorite style of beer with just the right dish.
Appetizers, cheeses and salads
Finding the right combination to begin a meal can be especially challenging because of the diversity of choices. A light appetizer like a cool vegetarian spring roll is a great companion for the fruity-crispness of a hefeweizen, but the heat of jalapeño poppers is better suited for the assertively bitter pale ale. Salads can be a bit easier, but your choice of dressing can make or break the beer's contribution.
Cheese brings out some of the most subjective pairings. A light bubbly Saison tends to go well with creamy Brie and rind cheeses, while more assertive hoppy India Pale Ales accentuate the sharpness in aged cheddar. The so-called stinky cheeses go best with some equally aggressive flavors from bold malty sweet beers.
Here are some ready-made appetizer pairings to get you started:
- Three Beaches Honey Blonde (golden ale) from Tyranena Brewing with a salad sprinkled with cranberries or apples, walnuts, and a tangy vinaigrette. The citrus and honey of golden ale complement similar flavors of the salad.
- Hatha-Weizen (German hefeweizen) from Ale Asylum with shrimp cocktail. The crisp, fruity, yeasty tones of banana and light cloves blend well with shrimp.
- Rocky's Revenge (bourbon barrel brown) from Tyranena Brewing, and a Mobay cheese. The bourbon and malt from the beer blends with the Mobay's soft sweetness.
- Lake Louie Warped Speed (Scotch ale) with a well-aged Gouda. Such distinctive malty sweetness blends with the sweet oak-like flavors of the Gouda.
Think of an ale like a red wine, paired with meats and assertive sauces, while lagers are lighter and crisper, like a white wine. However, just as with wines, those rules don't always apply. Consider the beer's ability to complement, contrast, cut or cleanse flavors on the palate. The only set rule is to avoid a beer and a food that will compete so much that one stamps out the other.
Crisp and firmly hopped beers like German pilsners (lagers) are excellent with most fish because they have just enough bitterness to cleanse oily or grilled tones. Steaks go well with dark malty brews like Scottish ales and porters. Spicy foods are best left for pale ales with bitter and resiny profiles that complete with, and even cut, the pepper heat of the dish.
- Verruckte Stadt German Pils from the Great Dane Pub and Brewery with a vegetable curry. The bubbly crispness and hoppy edge is just enough to blend with spices and herbs.
- Diablo (Belgian dubbel) from Ale Asylum with barbecued ribs. Dubbel's yeasty, fruity sweetness blends well with sweet barbecue sauces.
- Maibock from Capital Brewery with a German meal of sauerbraten, bratwurst and schnitzel with sauerkraut. The malty sweetness is firm enough to cut through and complement the meats.
- Ballistic (India pale ale) from Ale Asylum with a Cajun jambalaya. Dishes with lots of heat and spice need a competitive companion, and Ballistic, with its all-Amarillo hops, has a sharp citrus bitterness that stands up well to such a dish.
Rich caramel and chocolate flavors found in big, robust malty brews will blend well with sweet desserts like chocolate cake and crème brûlée. Equally flavorful are the Belgian lambics such as a kriek (cherry) or framboise (raspberry) next to something from your favorite Madison chocolatier.
- Raspberry Tart from New Glarus Brewing with a black forest cake or turtle fudge cheesecake. The sharp berry is a wonderful complement to the rich chocolate of the cake.
- Crop Circle Wheat from the Great Dane matched with a carrot cake. The hefeweizen has hints of clove and ginger that match well with those found in the classic cake.
- Barbara Imperial Dopplebock from Capital Brewery with the aforementioned crème brûlée. Lots of rich caramel and chocolate flavors come from both sides of this match.
Finally, when pairing beer and food, do experiment. Determine what works for you. And start with a beer or style you like, because if you don't like the beer, you probably won't like the pairing.