“We were a country founded on beer,” stated John Holl, the author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook at last Thursday’s talk with Kitchen Arts & Letters at the 92nd Street Y: The Dynamic Flavors of Beer – Tasting and Pairing. The starting point of his mini-seminar was having us taste some of these beers so that we could see the range and nuances of several of the beers currently being brewed in the United States. In his book, he tries to capture the stories of these and and others being made in this country at the moment and to highlight not only their diversity but also the variety of foods that we are eating with them at this point in time. “Beer and Food have really come up together,” he told us.
Before we delved into the matching up of beer and food, Holl explained to us the proper way to sample a beer. “You don’t swish and spit. You taste and swallow,” he said, pointing out the differences between a beer tasting and a wine tasting, noting that there were no dump buckets on the table for us to pour our beers into. There are who different methods of experiencing the aromas of a beer, he told us. “The Bloodhound,” where you do quick bursts of sniffing in the fragrance, and the “Drive By,” where you pass the glass back and forth across your nose, taking a deep breath as it goes by. Just as with wine, mouthfeel plays an important roll in sampling beer as do the aromas and finish.
The questions he told us to keep in mind when trying the beverages we were tasting that day were: “Would you have it again?” and “Would you have another one after that?” He also instructed us that the best way to get a beer into a glass was to pour straight down the middle. Unlike what I, and others, have been taught all of our beer-drinking and -pouring lives, you do want a bit of a head on top of the drink. It helps to build the aromas. Here’s a list of the beers that we tried and the pairings that Holl did with them:
This is a “standard American lager,” according to Holl. It tasted just like the beers of my college years, light, drinkable, best served cold. One of those beers that goes down smoothly on a hot summer’s day (possibly after mowing the lawn) or after a long shift at work. It was a doable match with the pretzel on the plate.
For me, this beer had quite a few dry cider notes, almost a cross between a lager and a cider, but not in a Snakebite kind of way. (I have memories of those from my time living in the UK just out of college.) It finished clean on the palate, which was nice with the pretzel that we tried with it, wiping up the saltiness on my tongue. I could see some really great food pairings as it might play well with dishes with a bit of spice (as well as maybe using it to cook with for a buttery roast chicken.).
This selection was a light, refreshing beverage, but I have to admit, I’m not generally a fan of wheat beers. The Manchego that we tasted with it brought out some fruity, clove, and even ripe banana notes, which was kind of intriguing to discover about it. During the Q&A at the end of the session, Holl pointed out that as it is often served with an orange or lemon wedge, it can also be a good match with briny seafood dishes, a pairing which might just change my mind about these beers.
I grew up with the lyrics to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” so I found it interesting that someone had named a beer after that incident. This was the beer I was most looking forward to sampling all evening, just from a personal standpoint. I’ve recently gotten into milk stouts and porters, as there are just those times when you really want something more complex and deep – velvety, darkly toasted with chocolate and toffee notes, which, by the way make this a great pairing for creamy desserts, or for the aged Gouda that we had with it that night. As my friend who was with me said, its aromas reminded her of affogato al caffè.
To end the evening, we sampled an IPA with a Maytag blue cheese. For me, IPAs are intrinsically linked to Indian food. As Holl pointed out to us, IPA is style that runs the gamut and can go with everything from the aforementioned spicy food to carrot cake. It was definitely robust enough to handle the blue cheese and made me wonder how it would do with a steak in a gorgonzola sauce (a recipe for which is in his book). That might be a project to bring some friends together for dinner and a few beers some time soon. Hopefully, they wouldn’t mind my trying this pairing out on them.
Thank you to Kitchen Arts & Letters for inviting me to attend this event. If you would like to drop by their store (which I encourage all cooks and cookbook lovers to do, as their selection and expertise is amazing), please visit their website for their current hours. In addition, they are hosting several other food talks in conjunction with their neighbor, the 92nd Street Y. Those talks can be found on the Y’s website.