We’re discussing one of the most important aspects of a brewpub that serves both beer and food, pairing beer with food. It is an essential part of our strategy at Augustino Brewing. It really should be a strategy of all brewpubs that are out there. In spite of this, it’s not uncommon that I will go into a brewpub, and I will see a beer menu on one side of me, and I will see a food menu on the other side of me, and I will see no listings of what beers should go with what foods.
Fortunately, I got some background in beer and food pairings. There’s great information out there that I’ve studied. I’m currently working on studying for the Cicerone, Certified Cicerone exam, which is an exam that is a more industry certification for individuals who are involved with both beer as well as food. It’s a relatively new program but I’m working on that. Really, it’s something that most brewpubs keep separately, and I think that that’s part of the bias that most individuals who are trying to open up a brewpub, their passion winds up being on the beer. Because their passion is on the beer, they forget about the food. The fact is, craft food sells craft beer, and craft beer sells craft food. It’s important to see how those two pieces fit together.
It’s also a great strategy just in general, but it gets overlooked by most breweries, whether it be here in Wichita, Kansas, or in your city, wherever you hail from. For if you’re considering opening up a brewpub or you already have one open, I would highly recommend looking at what pairings make sense for your food items with your beers. It can provide a lot of advantage to you, especially when you decide you’re going to see about pairing a high margin, high flavor craft beer with a similarly high margin craft food item on your menu. If you make that pairing good, if you make it a remarkable pairing between the two, you wind up having a wonderful dish, wonderful experience for your guests.
There are a few basic things to think about when you’re making these pairing. It can get very complex in terms of pairing beers with foods, but it doesn’t have to be that complex. The reason for this is two-fold. Number one, your palate is not the same as the palate of the person sitting next to you, and so what is a great pairing of beer and food to you might be a terrible pairing for the next person. We have to keep that in mind. Two, people like being told what to eat and what to drink together. It helps lower some of the anxiety about what beer to have and what food to have.
Maybe I’m not sure of what beers that a particular brewery has, but generally speaking, I’m going to be able to look at their menu and see a number of things that I want to eat. If I look at an item that I really want to eat, and it has a couple of beer suggestions underneath it, guess what? I’m probably going to order those beers. That’s definitely something to think about.
According to the brewers association and other sources as well, there’s a few major basics that help with making beer and food pairings. Number one, you want to match the food strength with the craft beer strength. If you’ve got a fairly robust beer, you want to pair it with a robust food item. For this reason, even though Augustino Brewing is going to be a craft beer and craft coffee place, which would make you initially think, “Oh, man, a bunch of dark, roasty beers. There’s truth to that. However, we’re not going to be one-trick ponies and have all of that. We’re also going to have lighter options as well, and mainly because we want those lighter options in terms of our craft beers to pair with lighter food options. For example, a really bad match in this area would be to match say an American light lager with a chocolate mousse, because the chocolate desert there is very rich, very big, and the light lager is just going to get lost and just seem like a very, very strange pairing.
On the flip side, a really good pairing might be an imperial stout with aged cheeses or dark chocolate truffles. That brings together two very bold, strong flavors, and they work together really well. Another thing to consider when you’re doing pairings is to find harmonies between your beers and your food items. It’s really good if you can find an attribute of your beer that will enhance something in a food item. In fact, these harmonies are almost the best thing, in my opinion, to find. It’s certainly something at Augustino Brewing that we are seeking out in our pairings are to find and pair up our food items in a way that our beer items enhance the food, and our food turns around and enhances the beer.
A good example of this might be taking an Oktoberfest or a Märzen style beer, which has some caramel notes to it with a pork type of dish. That would be a great pairing. On the flip side, a Hefeweizen, which tends to be a lighter beer. It has some delicate elements to it, would probably not pair very well with a steak. I like Hefeweizen, I like steaks, but the two together just don’t work because the hefe would be very much lost in the steak for the most part. Now, there’s some things you can do on the steak to maybe work that out, but it’s a strange pairing that way. If you don’t believe me, go out. Make a nice rich steak. Put a Hefeweizen next to it. You’ll find exactly what I’m talking about in terms of that pairing.
Third thing to really think about when you’re matching craft beers with craft food is to consider the actual attributes of the beer itself and/or the attributes of the craft food. The first element of these that you want to think about is the sweetness of the beer versus the bitterness factor. If a beer is more bitter, it’s going to tend to emphasize spicy food. You might want to tone that piece back if it’s a spicy pairing. It’s also better to utilize more malt-forward beers in a case of a spicy food, which would help balance the heat for most people.
In terms of carbonation. Carbonation could really help with in particular fatty or rich foods to help cut through them and cleanse them off your palate so that you’re ready for another bite or another sip of your drink. Heat is something to consider. We mentioned that before with the spicy foods. You generally want to have something to offset the spice character and malt and a maltier beer, a caramelly beer tends to help offset the heat in a beer. You want to think about the richness versus the softness factor. If you’ve got rich food, the richer it is, the more you’re going to need to cut through it with carbonation or bitterness.
Then lastly in this area, alcohol. The warming factor of it can really help to balance out and add complexity to foods that are high in umami character in particular. Umami being one of our six senses or six tastes that we have, and it’s one of the ones that has been known for a long time by eastern cultures, but was only accepted in fairly recent times here in western cultures. It’s definitely something real and it’s been proven.
There’s a few lines that are drawn in the sand on this topic, but for the most part, there isn’t a definitive yes or no on how things pair. It’s important to think about when you’re trying to make a pairing, don’t overthink it because if possible, you want to offer multiple pairing options because different palates operate differently. What works for me, may not work for the next person. If you can find two nice high margin beers that you can pair with a food item, that’s going to work a lot better for you than just having a single beer that somebody might say, “Oh, this is terrible pairing.” Well, it may be a terrible pairing for them, but it might be a great pairing for the next person. If you’ve got two different beers, provides you an opportunity to say, “Hey, if you can’t decide, let me bring out two samples for you. You can decide which one works with your food better.
You can find out more information from the Cicerone program, which is cicerone.org, I believe, or the Brewers Association. Search for those two. You’re going to find out more information about making pairings. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to seeing you back here soon.