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We all know there’s an art to pairing wine with food. Even if the extent of our knowledge is, “red with red meat, white with fish and chicken,” we know that sommeliers dedicate their entire lives to perfectly selecting and studying wines. Something that’s a little less known is that there’s actually an equally dedicated profession for beer. Trained Cicerones do basically the same thing as sommeliers except with beer. Go figure.

If you’re one to find a beer you like and drink it with anything, or pair any beer with whatever you’re throwing on the barbecue, a Cicerone would argue that you’re missing out on the true potential of both the drink and the meal. Because you may have had a good beer with a good burger, but have you ever had the perfect beer with the perfect burger?

In an effort to understand the complex world of lagers, ales, pilsners and the like, we spoke to Labatt Breweries‘ Head of Education and Certified Cicerone, Michelle Tham, for some hot tips on how to not be such a peasant when it comes to picking a beer for dinner. Michelle walked us through the basics of matching flavours, complimenting intensity and fully utilizing scrubby bubbles. Yes, that’s a technical term.

MATCH INTENSITY

The idea behind pairing food with alcohol is you want to enjoy the experiences of both simultaneously. If you pair a bold beer with a light salad, you’re going to lose the flavour of the salad. Similarly, if you pair a mild beer with a rack of ribs, it will barely make an impact. Michelle explains that you want to pair like with like, i.e. mild beers with mild flavours and bold beers with bold flavours.

Pairing in action: A light dish like this Prosciutto, Peach and Sweet Lettuce Salad would pair well with a mild beer like Stella Artois. Sounds like the perfect spring patio pairing.

Prosciutto, Peach and Sweet Lettuce Salad
Lynn Crawford

FIND A COMMON FLAVOUR

Like wines, beers have full and complex flavour profiles that often include a number of food-like ingredients. Not only can beers be bitter, sweet or dry, they can taste fruity, citrusy, floral, smokey or like a variety of spices. What a convenient quality when you’re trying to pair it with food! Michelle says it’s wise to pick a beer that has a flavour or ingredient in common with the dish you intend to pair it with.

Pairing in action: The lemon in this Pork Loin with Mushrooms and Potatoes is complimented beautifully by the citrusy character of Hoegaarden. Mmm did we just decide the menu for our next fall dinner party?

Pork loin with mushrooms and potatoes
Bonacini’s Italy

USE SCRUBBY BUBBLES WISELY

Okay, so that might not sound uber technical, but we swear that’s what Michelle called them. What she was referring to was the way the bubbles in beer can interact with your palate. There’s a whole science behind the bubbles in beer, but for our purposes, the important part is that you pair the level appropriately. Think of beer carbonation as “scrubby bubbles” that scrub your palate clean when you take a swig. You want to match the level of fizziness with the boldness of the flavour you’re drinking it with so you’re not just overwhelming and washing away the flavours of the food.

Pairing in action: The strong flavours in this Steak and Shrimp with Blue Cheese Butter can handle the extra scrubby power of a beer like Labatt 50. Cozy winter surf ‘n’ turf, anyone?

Steak and shrimp with blue cheese butter and salad
Rodney Bowers

LITERALLY PAIR YOUR BEER

If the beer is an ingredient in the food, it has to match, right? A real pro tip is to actually cook with the beer you’re going to be serving the food with and blending all the flavours together for a big happy (and totally cohesive) meal. It’s actually the secret to Michelle’s favourite ribs recipe—after searing, but before grilling, she suggests simmering ribs in a mixture of equal parts beer and water for two hours to really infused them with that beer flavour.

Pairing in action: These Spicy and Sweet Honey Chipotle Ribs are perfectly completed with Budweiser Copper Lager. Our summer barbecue just got a whole lot tastier.

Honey chipotle ribs
Patti Jinch