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Oakes Weekly - January 19, 2008
MY THOUGHTS ON BEER AND FOOD PAIRINGS
January 19, 2008
I canít decide if I like the big push Iím seeing when it comes to beer and food pairings. I mean, I get it. Beer goes with food. But something doesnít sit quite right with me.
First, itís old news being dressed up as new news. OK, my old news isnít everybodyís old news but I just thought Iíd get that off my chest.
Second, it goes into that whole ďwanna-be wineĒ thing. Wine with food is not inherently better and in fact I find it usually worse. But thatís me. The problem with wine & food pairing is that while I get how it can work at a really high level, most of us arenít sommeliers and donít have access to a wine list that would allow us to perfectly match our meals and drinks. So on the everyday level, we get vague matches based on whatever is handy (or affordable). I guess thatís why Iím usually not keen.
Which may explain why Iím also not keen on doing the same thing with beer. Precision is important. What I see a lot of are clumsy matches. Either the establishment in question doesnít have all that many beers to begin with, or the whole thing is a ďbeer dinnerĒ put on by a brewery or importer. Iím too anal to accept artificial constraints. I just know it isnít as good as it could be.
Then thereís shoehorning beer into some of the dishes. Itís not that you canít cook with beer. Itís been done. But itís often kind of needless. The best beer dishes are ones where beer is the first liquid of choice, not a substitute that is only being used for the purposes of cuteness.
Am I being too anal? Maybe. Joe Average isnít so fussy, so maybe I should chill. What I see with wines is a pretentiousness. Because there are such things as sommeliers and restaurants with mindblowing wine lists that facilitate perfect matches, there is a certain trickle-down effect so that every soccer mom who puts a random chardonnay together with salmon thinks sheís a genius. We can do that with beer, too, I guess, but to me it just brings that same pretentiousness to the table. That turns me off.
So maybe Iíd be happier with the whole beer & food thing if I had faith that it was being done by people armed with more than just good intentions.
The cause of good beer to me is best served by highlighting beerís diversity, not trying to directly emulate wine. That will always make beer the poor second cousin. Is it not good enough to highlight the beauty of a robust imperial stout after a day on the slopes? Doesnít a crisp pale ale blow minds after a long bike ride in the summer? Could a sunny spring morning with a gueuze be anything other than perfect?
The beauty of beer is its simplicity. Beer is the peopleís beverage. It has no pretensions associated with it. It is peasant food.
Yes, peasant food has a certain lack of appeal in North America but that is only because weíve lost track of how good peasant food is supposed to be. Our low-end food is total crap, stuff that barely contains recognizable ingredients much less genuine cooking techniques.
Real peasant food is fresh local ingredients, prepared simply. Ideas prove themselves over decades or centuries. Thatís where beer came from. A lot of our styles are fairly modern inventions, yes, but many are not. Be it weizen or lambic, bock or barley wine, the ideas for these brews go back centuries. Other styles died out and many did so because they werenít as good.
This may run directly against the current trends in brewing Ė the whole experimentation thing and the extreme brewing. Thereís a place for that. I can eat that kind of food, too, if itís done by a good chef. But for me, thereís always a home for a bowl of pho. Or mapo dofu. Steak and kidney pie. Beans and rice. Barbeque. Borscht. Bring it. If you want to know where I think beer ought to be this is it.
It spent decades in swill-land, slumming with Whoppers and hot dogs, bad pizza and $2 steak. Itís not fine dining, and I donít think it ought to be. Let wine have that. Let the snobs do their thing, floating from one flavour of the month to the next. Beer should be a bit more timeless than that. Itís been around since the dawn of civilization, after all. Just like meat cooked over fire. Just like soups made from your local market goods. Just like pies.
I like my beer and food pairings old school. Steam up some clams and mussels. You can pair that with wit, gueuze, IPA or helles and it will be awesome. Thatís what Iím getting it. Simple, timeless and sublime. No cuteness or pretentiousness needed.
Thank you for listening.
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