Let me introduce you to one of my largest pet peeves: The feeling that just because I’m eating a food from a certain culture or country that I somehow need to be served the crappy industrial lager of that country.

Chinese food? Tsingtao. Japanese food? Sapporo. Mexican food? Corona. Italian food? Birra Moretti. Indian food? Kingfisher.

Not to mention Lion Lager, Castle Lager, Aguila, Tiger, Singha, Kirin, Sol, Dos Equis, Tusker, Orion, Red Stripe, Jinlan, Peroni, Carib, Tecate, Modelo, Pacifico, Taj Mahal, San Miguel, Presidente, Brahma, Saigon, Chang, Saku, Bali Hai, and on and on and on.

That’s just a few – a very, very, very few – of the hundreds of brands of light industrial lager made ’round the world, branded specifically for the country that they’re being sold in, and then served to me in a restaurant under the auspices that this will somehow go well with the food because the name sounds right.

Can we stop this, please? It’s sad and embarrassing. Pair by flavor, not by name. It suggests that the beer is a decoration rather than a beverage.

Let me tell you why my favorite sushi restaurant is my favorite:

Is it the best sushi around? It’s good, but not the best.

Is it the always-on buy-one-get-one-free special? Eh, nice, but an excuse to overcharge.

Is it the fact that have the most authentic decor? Not even remotely.

Is it the swarthy staff of Latinos assuming that most Americans won’t be able to tell the difference between South American and South Asian? Well. That is pretty amusing.

Is it because of the flavorful range of sakes? Close, but no cigar.

It is because I can get craft beer there that actually goes well with the sushi. I can get good sushi with good beer. Not great sushi with shitty beer. Not shitty sushi with great beer. But good sushi with good beer. Is that too much to ask?

Would it be so hard for a Mexican restaurant carry an IPA? The food is practically made for it.

I don’t want to suggest that there are no well-made international lagers. There are, and they have their place in cuisine and fine drinking. But the majority – the vast majority – of “international” beers out there are nothing more than the same old crap you get everywhere else: watered down, DMS-y, over-carbonated, light lager. What’s worse? They’re all made by the same 3 companies and just marketed differently. I would be shocked to find out that there are anything but superficial differences in the recipes.

So, come on restaurants, let’s cut the crap. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and guess that you’re in business because you think the food you serve tastes good. So why would you serve something less than excellent as a beverage to go with your cuisine? You can put the crappy international lager on the menu if it makes you feel more authentic, but support your local brewery and save a spot in your cooler for some actual good, flavorful beer that compliments your food. Your diners will thank you.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 03 Aug 2010 @ 08 37 AM

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Storytime. Flashback to my anniversary. My wife and I went out to dinner at our favorite local fancy-pants restaurant (fancy-pants because it’s fancy enough for me to feel like I should wear pants). It’s wonderful. Fantastic food, local ingredients, menu changes daily based on what’s available. It’s downright brilliant food.
A totally stolen picture of beer and food.
I knew ahead of time that they didn’t serve beer there (though they also do not sell local wine – only fancy French wine listed by vineyard), so it wasn’t a surprise to not see any on the menu, and while I enjoyed whatever syrah it was that the server told me would go excellently with the dishes that were served to me, I couldn’t help but pair each course with a beer in my head. It was easy, and it would have far outshone the wine in a couple of cases. It’s French food, it’s all heavy, creamy, fatty, brilliant dishes that would have balanced wonderfully with a number of excellent beers. For the most part, I even could pair every dish with a locally-made beer. It would have been a great addition to the menu.

But if you’re a fancy French restaurant, and it’s your M.O. to serve only French wines, I can’t argue… much… while I’m physically in the restaurant.

Would a Biere de Garde or Saison hurt, though? They’re in your oeuvre, and everything.

Flashback even further, in-laws are visiting. (They’re pretty much strictly wine people, but nobody’s perfect.) We are at a fancy-pants french restaurant in another part of town. They’ve got a wine list as long as my arm. And for beer?

Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Blue Moon, and an IPA. I forget which one. It’s not the point. I’ll come back to this.

Flashback to when I’m age 15. I used to be waitstaff at a crappy roadside restaurant in Northern Maine. At dinner, we had a wine list on the table. 6 or 8 whites and 6 or 8 reds, and then a handful of roses: the pink wine. We sold wine by the glass no matter what.

In the walk-in-freezer, we had two boxes of wine. A white and a red. They were some hopelessly generic wine. If somebody ordered a white – no matter which one – it came from the white box. If somebody ordered a red, it came from the red box. If somebody ordered a rose – I wish I was making this up – we put in 3/4 white wine and then filled the glass with red. Bam. Rose. It always amazed me how people would take a sip of their wine and say things like, “Oh, I love this one. We have it at home, it’s our favorite.” When nothing that was on the wine list was what we were advertising it was.

The beer selection at that place? Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, PBR.

You see, that’s the kind of place that serves macrobrew. The owners are not discerning and clearly don’t care how the beverages that they’re selling compare with the food that they’re selling (which also wasn’t very great – mmm.. deep fried everything), and the patrons don’t care either. They’re looking for a cheap beer (it has its place), not for a dining experience.

If you’re an upscale restaurant, and you’ve put care into your wine list and your food selection and preparation, you should be embarrassed to be selling anything less than excellent beer.

Dear Fancy Restaurant That I Am Paying Through the Nose to Eat At,

I do not see Boon’s Farm, Night Train, Mad Dog or any Bartles and James on your drinks list. However, I do see beers that I would consider comparable. I presume that this is because of one of two reasons:

1) You don’t know better. But that’s kind of embarrassing. Presumably, you have a sommelier or somebody with enough wine knowledge to be able to pick out a decent enough wine list to serve with your food. In a pinch, that person should be skilled enough with flavors to be able to pick out comparable beers. If they really don’t, why not take the time to find somebody who does know? It shouldn’t be that hard to find somebody in your area to make recommendations. I might suggest starting with the roster of Certified Cicerones, but even a good chunk of the Certified Beer Servers out there would probably be able to help you.

2) You don’t care. But that’s beyond embarrassing. You care about your food, you care about your wine, you care about your dining atmosphere and your waitstaff, but you don’t care about the beer? You treat it like it’s some concession that you’re making rather than part of your experience. “Oh.. we have it because inevitably someone will ask for beer, but we don’t want to carry those pedestrian beverages.” It’s an insult. An insult to your customer base and even an insult to your own establishment that you can’t be bothered to care consistently about your image across everything that you serve.

Please follow through on the commitment that you’re making to the rest of your restaurant and serve excellent beer to go with your excellent food and excellent wine. It only makes sense.

Cheers,
Erik

This article is written with all due respect to my buddy Brian who brought this topic up to me earlier in the week. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. So here it is, sir, my complete and utter commiseration and compassion for your business-travel-plight.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 20 Nov 2009 @ 03 09 PM

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I was out having drinks with friends last night. A woman I don’t really know was sitting across the table from me drinking a PBR. “I’m not really a beer person,” said she. “This is about as adventurous as I get.” I offered her a sip of mine, a Petrus Oud Bruin, and got the reaction that I love so dearly:

“Oh my god. That’s wonderful. Beer can taste like that?!”

Her next beer was not a PBR.

One of my favorite things to tell people is that my superpower is finding beers that people like. It’s pretty rare that I meet people that think they don’t like beer that I can’t convert to beer, albeit sometimes slowly. All it takes is a little patience, a decent beer selection somewhere nearby, and a person who is willing to work through the process with you.

At the risk of sharing myself out of a superpower, here’s how I do it:

Find out what other drinks and foods they like This can be both alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks and any vast array of foods. This can be a really easy indicator. “I LOVE coffee.” = Try a stout. “I love fruity drinks.” = Try this fruit beer. “I love broccoli.” = Good luck! Matching flavors to introduce people to beer can be really easy. It can also really throw you for a loop. One of the women I was talking to last night told me: “When I drink liquor, I like gin and tonics. When I’m not drinking liquor, I drink sweet tea.” Tough one. It wasn’t until I was on my way to work this morning that I thought that what I would really like to try her on would be a Ruination IPA, Arrogant Bastard or even a 120 Minute IPA. Why? Well, we (beer geeks) all know that these are super hoppy beers. They’re high in citrus flavor and floral character, much like your gin and tonic. They’re also balanced with a lot of malt, a sweet backbone to balance out the bitterness of such a big hop presence. There’s your sweet tea. I hope I get the chance to try her out on one of these (or at least give her the recommendation).

Find out what they don’t like about beer This is actually two questions. Question one is: What is it about beer that you don’t like. This question might take a little coaxing to get a decent answer to. (Most frequent answer I get to this is: ‘The beer taste.’ Anybody who is in IT support will recognize this as the blanket answer to ‘What seems to be the problem with your computer?’ ‘It’s not working.’ ‘Amazing! How do you know?’) My wife likes to tell people that when she met me she thought she didn’t like beer. She usually follows this with: “Turns out that what I don’t like is Bud Light!” Bingo! So try to get an answer to what they don’t like, even if it’s a brand. Come up with an alternative for them to try based on what other drinks they like. If you’re wrong, then the followup question is: What about this beer don’t you like? Is it the bitterness? The sweetness? You don’t like flowers? You don’t like chocolate? If you feed a person the vocabulary they need to define it, they will be able to finally settle on what it is they don’t like, and you can build from there.

Don’t try them out on full pints. Number one way to get someone who doesn’t like beer to continue not liking beer: force them to drink a pint of something they don’t like. If you’re in the right kind of bar, see if you can get the bartender to give you samples of beer for the person to try. At absolute worst, buy one for yourself and let the person try it from your glass. They are going to be much more likely to try a wide array of things if they don’t have to suffer through an entire glass of something they don’t enjoy.

If possible, pair it with food. This is really multi-purpose. For the most part, people like eating, so you’re already giving them something that they enjoy. It gives them something to focus on beside the beer, which may make them a bit more adventurous . It also opens up a much wider range of flavors for them to try.

Don’t force the issue. Finding the right beer for somebody might not happen in one night. It could take days or weeks. A lot of people are going into this with the idea set in their mind: “I don’t like beer.” It can be a defining principle for people. No! I am a Liquor Person! I am a Wine Person! My response is: “Look, if you like good things, you will like good beer. You just haven’t had the right one.”

I can’t think of a person that I haven’t been able to find a beer for (surely they must exist, but I’ve apparently blocked that out), though some of them have taken me months of pondering and looking for just the right one to try on them. It can be a challenge, but everybody has some sort of beer that they’re going to like. It’s up to you to help them find it, and if you play your cards right you get to drink a lot of great beer in the meantime.

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Categories: appreciation, beer-food pairing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 22 Jul 2009 @ 12 10 PM

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 15 Jul 2009 @ 4:41 PM 

Last night, I went to multi-brewery beer dinner. It’s the first time I’d gone to a beer dinner that wasn’t hosted at a brewery and also the first since I started writing here. Overall, I had a blast, but it got me to thinking: What exactly makes a successful beer dinner?
Beer Dinner Menu, Spice Street, July 14, 2009
Certainly, there are two easy starting points: Good food and good beer. Without those, you are doomed to fail, but if that’s the only thing you’ve got, I think you’re only coming out at mediocre. So I tried to come up with a little list of what I think makes (or would make) a beer dinner exceptional.

Have brewery reps present. Last night, we had brewmasters from two of the four breweries represented on site (Triangle and Lone Rider, and a rep from a 3rd (Natty Greene’s). They came around to each table as their beer was being served and talked a little bit about the style, how they thought it would pair with the course, a little about what was going on with them for business and everything. It was a wonderful touch, and the 4th brewery was noticeably absent when their beer was poured. If brewery reps aren’t available, at the very least, have a beer connoisseur or cicerone available to go around to each table to talk to people about what they’re drinking and eating.

Be thoughtful with your pairings. I really enjoyed the menu last night, but we had what I would consider beer pairings for wine people. I’m not trying to be disparaging, here, but it was organized in a very familiar way. Light beers went with seafood. Dark beers went with red meat and chocolate. It’s traditional, and really mimics the way most people pair wines with food. To be fair, if you’ve got a wine-friendly crowd that’s fairly unfamiliar with beer/food pairings, this is probably a great way to go. Myself, I like it when you actually work on the flavors available in the food and the beer together for an end result.

For instance, one of the pairings last night was Lone Rider’s Shotgun Betty Hefeweissen with a hop-marinated scallop and frisee salad. This is a traditional pairing. I’m not sure it really worked. Without doubt: the beer was excellent and the scallop was excellent, but the beer scrubbed the rather delicate flavor of the scallop off of your palate entirely. They were both great, but they weren’t great together. It might have been really interesting to see Lone Rider’s Deadeye Jack Porter paired in this instance; using the dark roasted flavors (and probably lower carbonation) to play against the light flavors and somewhat spicy flavors in the scallop to create a whole new sensation across the palate might have been really fantastic. Mind you – I haven’t tried it. It might suck. But I think getting that kind of non-traditional pairing right is a step toward creating a fantastic beer dinner.

At the same time, you can’t really beat chocolate stout and chocolate cake together, traditional or not. Damn that’s tasty.

Give people information. I think it’s important to remember that craft beer still has a really small market share and that to population at large, craft beer – much less beer/food pairing – is something entirely new. Giving people information – especially printed information – that they can refer to during the dinner and even take with them afterward, is tantamount in getting them to enjoy themselves and come back for more later. Tell them what they’re drinking, what to expect out of what they’re drinking, what to expect from the pairing, and where to find the beer later. (Presumably, they know where to find the food.) Education is key. There are three related reasons that so many smart people are into wine: 1) There is a lot to learn. 2) There are readily available resources to learn about wine. 3) Smart people like learning. Craft beer fits into the same mold. Exploit it.

What about you? Outside of “good beer” and “good food” what makes a good beer dinner into a great beer dinner for you?

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 23 May 2009 @ 6:14 AM 

Do it. Could you think of a more perfect thing? It’s not just a cookout, it’s a beer dinner cookout. Come to think of it, every cookout should be a beer dinner cookout.

Flying Dog’s got an article up about this on their BeerDinners.com as well as a truly frightening picture, but.. well.. it’s Flying Dog, so they’re only recommending Flying Dog beers. Which is cool. They make good beer. Tire Bite is one of my favorite summertime session beers.

But I just wanna throw out a couple of style choices, instead, and hopefully get some recommendations from others. When pairing, I tend to shoot for one of three things: 1) Flavors that will complement each other. 2) Flavors that will build on one another. 3) How to use beer to scrub the palate after particularly heavy foods. Here’s what I’m looking at as a potential menu for my Memorial Day Cookout along with some possible pairings.

Brilliantly Prepared Food Beer
Smoked Pork Shoulder aka Carolina ‘Cue and Smoked Brats Smoked Porter or Rauchbier
Masala Grilled Chicken IPA
A Bacon Explosion Saison
Pasta and potato salads Witbier and/or Kolsch
Chocolate cake Raspberry Hefeweizen or a good tart Kriek

 

What about you? What’s on the menu? And, more importantly, what beers are going with it?

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Categories: beer-food pairing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 23 May 2009 @ 06 14 AM

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