by Marnie Record, workforce specialist, LLCC Value Added Local Foods program
A beer for your thoughts sure beats a penny these days. So I handpicked a few local beers and delivered them to Springfield chefs for their ideas on food pairing suggestions (except for Engrained Brewing Company, which brews their own beer).
Through this exercise, I learned two significant lessons besides the specifics on pairing beers with food.
First, the unexpected gift of beer can transport someone from the daily grind to a moment of joy. Second, frustrating days in the kitchen often revolve around someone who took the last of a key recipe ingredient without telling anyone to order more. Fortunately when Chef Ryan Lewis, Driftwood Cocktail and Eatery owner, discovers there isn’t any lettuce in the kitchen for a salad that was just ordered by a customer on a Wednesday morning at 11 a.m., he can sprint to the farmer’s market a short block away and all is well, with possibly the freshest salad in town served a few minutes later.
The experts weigh in below with their pairing suggestions for the beers chosen for them. However, it doesn’t take a professional palette to experiment and discover your own personal preferences. My preferred method of beer and food pairing study involves gathering a group of friends, selecting a beer style, and cooking an assortment of foods. While I have more fun than I learn through these exercises, I am amazed at how different a beer can taste depending on the food flavors accompanying it. Additionally, while my beer preferences tend toward bold flavors, with the right food pairing, a delicate beer becomes more appealing as the flavor nuances are accentuated.
From the pros:
Chef Aurora Coffey of American Harvest Eatery
Beer: Prairie Path Ale by Two Brothers Artisan Brewing, Warrenville, Illinois
Chef Coffey’s suggested food pairing: the complex flavors of maltiness and a touch of hops with such a nice smooth finish pair well with pork belly. The Prairie Path Ale cuts through the rich salty flavor of the pork belly. You need sharp and crisp to pair with pork belly which can also be accomplished with foods such as pickled vegetables or an acidic sauce. Both pork belly and gluten free have seen their trendy days but these are classic flavors that you couldn’t deny their synchronicity. (Aurora’s favorite gluten free beer.)
Best place to enjoy: a nice dinner out with friends in an intimately lit dining space with candles, loud music and great conversation (presumably about food and beverages). It’s not too heavy so you can drink it over the course of a night and still feel good.
Beer: Dynamo Copper Lager by Metropolitan Brewing, Chicago, Illinois
Chef Coffey’s suggested food pairing: the nice caramel note and hoppiness pair best with something spicy like adobo braised chicken thighs and sweet potatoes. The spiciness of the beer will let the smoky spice of the chilies in the chicken really shine. There is just enough sweetness in the beer to bring out the caramelization of the sauce on the chicken and the natural sweetness in the sweet potatoes. This is a really drinkable, versatile beer in what it would pair with. From sweet to spicy, it has enough substance and flavor to stand up next to even the boldest flavored dishes.
Best place to enjoy: camping with friends. The flavors of the beer bring out all the best aspects of being outdoors in the fall, roasting marshmallows or grilling meat. You get the smokiness from the camp fire and sweet scent of leaves balancing out the crisp, cool hoppiness from the beer.
Owner, Founder, and Brewer Brent Schwoerer of Engrained Brewing Company
Beer: Oktoberfest by Engrained Brewing Company, Springfield, Illinois
Brewer Schwoerer’s suggested food pairing: grilled pork chops or traditional German style bratwurst. Our Oktoberfest beer is German-style amber lager with a malt-forward profile that showcases the toasty, caramel-like flavors from the kilned malt (our Oktoberfest is all barley) with a clean, crisp finish characteristic of lagers. The char on the pork from the sear of the grill pairs well with the toasty flavor from the beer.
Best place to enjoy: The ideal scene for this pairing is inside the Hofbräu tent surrounded by lederhosen and dirndl-wearing folk while the sound of polka fills the room and the aroma of grilled meat and fresh beer carries through the air. Yes, none other than Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. Closer to home, you can accomplish a similar goal around a backyard grill with friends and family enjoying the same scents, and don’t forget your polka tracks while you hoist your Stein. Prost!
Chef Ryan Lewis of Driftwood Cocktail and Eatery
Beer: Springfield Wheat by Rolling Meadows Brewery, Springfield, Illinois
Chef Lewis’ suggested food pairing: cumin and curry slow braised goat shoulder. The banana, clove, and candy notes on the edge are like a triple play with the gaminess of the goat and the earthiness of the cumin and curry.
Best place to enjoy: an open pit on a farm with the slow cooked, smokiness farm offsetting the banana and clove.
Beer: Opus Saison by 4 Hands Brewing Co., St. Louis, Missouri
Chef Lewis’ suggested food pairing: ramen hot pot with egg noodles, soft poached egg, cilantro, lime, sprouts, scallion, seasonal vegetables, spicy pork broth and pork belly. The bright notes from lime and cilantro of the hot pot play well with the subtle tea and spice notes from Saison, and it then has the richness of the fat from the pork belly, broth and egg cut from crispness of the beer.
Best place to enjoy: sharing a large pot communally in the days of spring or early fall.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Education Culinary Institute.
Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org