You might not have ever attended one (or maybe you have), but I’m sure you’ve seen signs outside of your favorite bar or restaurant advertising a beer or wine-paired dinner. Pairing wine or beer with your meal is nothing new, but the enthusiasm for specific pairings has been increasing for the last few decades. The question, though, is which one pairs better with food?
Chef Gaston Alfaro from Half Moon Bay Brewing Company likes to design pairing dinners that feature both beer and wine instead of one or the other. “Wine pairing has long been considered an art by the general public and can seem intimidating.” Alfaro was taught that if you like the food and you like the wine – they go together. “So, really taking the daunting aspect away is the first step. Go with your gut, literally.”
Alfaro knows that it’s more common, but beer is actually much easier to pair with food. “Beer is what we specialize in here at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company and we feel it has a wider range of flavors and styles to pair with food.” Also, beer’s carbonation makes it a natural palate cleanser.
It’s no secret that there are many flavors that are better suited to be paired with beer and many flavors better paired with wine. Plus, there are so many varieties of beer and wine; each can be matched perfectly with a complimentary food. There’s honestly no meal that can’t be paired with beer or wine. If you are eating a breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes, you can easily pair that with a Founder’s Breakfast Stout. Even a rich dessert can easily be paired with your favorite port or a beer like Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.
There aren’t any flavors left out when it comes to beer pairing versus wine pairing anymore. “As the craft beer movement has dramatically increased representation on the culinary scene there has been a dramatic shift in the overall acceptance of beer as a rival to wine with food,” says Alfaro. “Even some beer connoisseurs may still go with tradition when it comes to a big cabernet with a steak, but all bets are off.”
Like most chefs, Alfaro has favorite dishes to pair with beer and wine respectively. He says the best way to do this is to cheat and pair the meals with the specific ingredients in the food itself. “For wine, it’s coq au vin with pinot noir and for beer, it’s our skirt steak sandwich served on home-made beer bread and our brown ale.”
Classical training is not necessary when it comes to pairing beverages and food
The palate is the ultimate meter, but Alfaro suggests looking at the body of each dish, and compare it to the body of the beer or wine. “If it’s a lighter salad, perhaps a lighter beer would be a nice match so that one component doesn’t overpower the other.” Half Moon Bay is hosting its second annual Beer vs. Wine Dinner on January 21st. Alfaro considers it to be a great example how much fun pairings can be. “This year we are partnering with Alfaro Family Vineyards and battling our matches over four courses with guests voting on their favorite combination.”
The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company opened in 2000 in Half Moon Bay, California with a ton of hops and a dream. “Brewing onsite came to be in 2003 and over a decade later we are living the dream,” says Head Distiller James Costa. “We have a beautiful location on the Pillar Point Harbor and a great locally-focused menu to go with our beer.” Hop-centric brews are both on trend and personally appealing to Costa, so consumers should expect a lot of that coming out of the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company this year.
“When deciding which beer to pair with food, there are standards, but one also has to decide whether the intent is to lend a supporting role to the food or create a heightened experience where the two parts craft a different flavor together,” says Costa.
Beer-Paired Meals Get the Same Respect as Wine-Paired Meals
“In my world beer pairing gets more respect than wine pairing,” says Costa. Beer once had the reputation for being more commonplace and easier on the bank account than wine, but as the beer industry has seen a dramatic increase in prestige, the respect has followed.
The Popularity of Beer-Paired Meals Has Increased In the Last Decade
The popularity of beer pairings has a lot to do with the increase in the popularity of beer. Food and drink go hand in hand, so it makes sense that beer fans would want to enhance the dining experience by pairing their meals with beer. When professional brewers are involved, it’s even more fun for people to participate in beer and food tastings because they might get the opportunity to try some wacky new beer they’ve never heard of before and hear about the brewer’s inspiration behind it.
The Best Foods to Pair with Beer
Costa believes that most people probably choose their favorite food first and then pick a beer that they think would go with it. “I think the trick is to start with the beer and then cook around it,” says Costa. “My favorite beer is going to be in the IPA or hop heavy category and usually these match up well with hearty flavors and lots of spice.”
Half Moon Bay Brewery has a lot of great beers coming out this year. Costa says to be on the lookout for their Barley Wine, Doppelbock, Pilsner, Summer Ale and more. “Look for us at events during San Francisco Beer Week – and at the brewery this February we will have a beer and dessert pairing menu available in honor of Valentine’s Day.”