Pairing a Craft Beer with Great Food - A Culinary Compliment to Both

There isn't anything much better  than a great meal paired with a delicious, full-flavored craft beer. Most people think of pairing food with wine, but often fine beers offer much more versatility than a wine does. There are so many styles and such a wide range of flavors, craft beer compliments a whole spectrum of food flavors. Seasonal beers go wonderfully with seasonal meals as well.

In order to make it easier to think of which beer goes with what food, a good rule of thumb is to think of ale like red wine, and lager as if it were white wine. Strong hoppy ales, like IPAs, can overwhelm the cuisine so be sure to pair them with strong and spicy food. One option is to pair like flavors; tart goes with tart, and sweet, with sweet. The beer ought to be slightly more sweet or tart as the food being served. Taste is subjective, though, so it is important to be experimental and adventurous. Try new and unusual beers, and discover how they taste paired with your favorite meals.

The most widespread lager style beer is Pilsner, and the most common ale is a Pale Ale. Both, of course, are terrific with an excellent meal. A classic pairing for any number of the outstanding American Pale Ales would be with a juicy hamburger and cheddar cheese. If you can muster dessert, Pale Ale also goes greet with a maple bread pudding. A classic Pilsner is ideal in the summer because it is so crisp and refreshing. Pair a nice German Pilsner with barbecued chicken breast and a fresh mixed greens salad.

For more extreme barbecues you might want to bring a strong, hoppy IPA. I've found that a very peppery bone-in ribeye tastes amazing with a well hopped IPA. The piney and citrus notes of the hop bomb perfectly compliment the tender, spicy, slightly fatty meat. Recently there is a craze for double or Imperial IPAs that are extremely hoppy and high in alcohol content, but normally balanced with a thick almost sweet maltiness. These double IPAs are delicious with a grilled leg of lamb seasoned with much garlic and rosemary, or a tender smoked beef brisket. Furthermore, cheese lovers swear by the flavor combination of blue cheese and Gorgonzola with IPA.

Strong, hoppy IPAs are also classic with curry, whether Thai or Indian, green or red. The strong hoppy overtones balance spicy meals very well. I also believe that the exotic flavor undertones and citrus elements found in the extremely hopped IPAs match the over the top shock of some Thai or Indian food.

Years ago I went to Belgium and could not get enough of the the classic Belgian meal, moulle e frites, mussels and fresh-cut French fries. Of course, the Belgian beers are world renowned. Every small town has a pub that makes remarkable beer, and in the cities you can sit outside in an outdoor cafe and enjoy a big steaming pot of mussels and drink some amazing beers. Witbier is a classic with steamed mussels, but when I was in Belgium I preferred to try as many different Abbey Dubels and Tripels as I could, and they paired perfectly with the succulent North Sea Belgian mussels.

Belgian Abbey Ales are getting quite popular in the U.S. and it is now easier to find Abbey Dubels and Tripels in the more well stocked liquor stores. Expert American craft breweries are also adapting the traditional recipes to create concoctions that dazzle. They carry quite a flavor punch because of their unique natural yeasts, as well as the tradition and craft that goes into producing them. Because it can be quite strong, an Abbey Tripel compliments spicy cajun food and the marriage of extreme flavors is a high in and of itself. An Abbey Dubel is slightly more subdued, and tastes terrific with a hearty meat stew. For dessert, try a Tripel with dark chocolate bread pudding, and pair an Abbey Dubel with baklava and other non-chocolate desserts.

I prefer dark beers in the winter time, and these hearty brews need a meal that is equally warming and substantial. Porters, though very dark, are not high in alcohol content, and are slightly sweet with a nice toasty malt flavor. Pair a porter with smoked and roasted meats or fish. Porter is perfect with chocolate, and desserts with peanut butter and coconut too.

Stouts are already pretty filling, so be prepared. I tried an oatmeal stout with Oaxcan Mole chicken once and it was amazing. The sweet and thick stout was the perfect match for the spicy, earthy mole. Imperial Stouts are very strong and high in alcohol content. They overpower most foods, but are fabulous with dessert, like a chocolate raspberry torte.

There are so many remarkable beers to try. The recent boom of American craft brewers and breweries is producing a fantastic amount of outstanding beers of various styles to discover and enjoy. I recommend that get out to some of the local breweries in your area and give some of them a try!  Make it a point to experiment with beers you have never tried and pair them with foods to discover sumptuous flavor combinations.

Joe Gatto

I am a freelance writer and operate Beach Marketing, an interactive marketing service for small businesses in Miami Beach, Florida.

Hip Hop and Craft Beer-The Creation of a New Beer Festival in the Midwest

I have had an incredible time over the last few years attending beer festivals that showcase many of the great brewers here in the Midwest.  I have been lucky  enough to have made so many new friends who share my love for  craft beer and have come to love the community that beer brewing has created. 

Two of the amazing people I have met are Abbie and Woodie Bonds, who live here in Kansas City and are well entrenched in the Midwest craft beer community.  Together they are currently creating another great beer festival for the KC area, the Hip Hops Hooray Beer & Music Festival.  In addition, Abbie has recently been named the Director of Taproom Operations at a Kansas City favorite brewery, Red Crow Brewing Company.  Congratulations to Abbie! 

I got a chance to ask them a few questions about the Hip Hops Hooray Music & Beer Festival recently so they could share their event with our readers. 

Abbie and Woodie Bonds 

I am so glad to be able to chat with you both.  Tell us a bit about your history in the craft beer community. 

"Oh it all began...honestly its hard to pinpoint for me," says Abbie.  "I always drank things that were a little different, but I recall one of the first “craft beers” that Woodie and I drank together was Pete’s Wicked Cream Ale." 

"That was back in 2006-ish, it was a gateway for me for sure," says Woodie.  "It grew from there, trying new things when buying a mix 6 pack at a local liquor store, some of which we liked...a lot of which we didn't."

"Woodie started drinking “dark beers” on a bet from one of his friends," Abbie said, "Bully Porter from Boulevard is what got him hooked and he has been a stout-high ABV guy ever since."

 "Our first beer festival was the Nano Brew Fest in 2013, which is where we ended up meeting some new friends."   Woodie agreed and told us "It was a GREAT experience and we decided that we HAD to continue to surround ourselves with these great people, and so we have! We have attended multiple beers festivals and love them."

What was the motivation behind the idea to create the Hip Hops Hooray  Music & Beer Festival?

"Woodie loves the idea of combining craft beer and hip hop music, because it is something a little out of the "norm", and it's his dream scenario to eventually have a venue that would be able to do this on a regular basis." "We thought this might be a good trial run so see how our community receives the idea," said Abbie. "There seems to be a lot of negative connotations about hip hop and we would like to change how people view it in the craft beer community."

Tell us what it’s been like working with and coordinating the various brewers/vendors you will feature.

"It has actually been a great experience with a lot of support from the major brewers, " Abbie said, adding that they have been very helpful and have been a great resource when it comes to things they may not know about having a festival.

Share a bit about the event itself, maybe something we don’t know yet?  

"We are trying to switch up how we are doing things just a little," Abbie explains.  "The venue is unlike any other place where typical beer festivals are held in Kansas City."  Abbie notes that the building itself is a part of history here that has been renovated into an amazingly beautiful and elegant space for all kinds of events.  

"We will have brewers set up inside and out...which should be perfect balance and please the festival attendees," Woodie said. "We are crossing our fingers for an amazing weather day to make that all happen."

"In addition to the great brewers and beer, we will have passed appetizers for guests, with lots of goodies for everyone.  This is also something that no other beer fest has done in this area so instead of having to take time away from sampling, the food will right there at almost any time you are ready," Abbie said. 

What are some of your local Kansas City favorite brewers and breweries, and on a broader note, do you have any favorite brewers here in the Midwest, outside the KC area?

"Well, that is a loaded question for sure...and a hard one to answer. KC has so much variety and each of them has their own special reason as to why we love them...I think that our personal relationships with people at certain breweries have made us slightly partial, which isn't a bad thing for sure!" Abbie adds that "Crane Brewing and Red Crow Brewing are our two go-to breweries and are always our first recommendations to friends coming from out of town looking for places to go.  It really depends on the styles of beer people are looking for.  "We also enjoy Cinder Block Brewery, as they are close to us and are often doing things a little outside of the box."  

We are also lucky to have many friends in the homebrew community here that also have contributed substantially to our love of craft beer and trying new things

As far Midwest breweries we love Tallgrass (Manhattan, KS), Madhouse (Des Moines, IA), Narrow Gauge and Side Project (St Louis, MO). They all have really different things that make them stand out to us.  

Do you hope to plan additional festivals or perhaps make this an annual event?

"If things go well, we would love to do this annually, and hope that it grows into something more," said Abbie.

Any predictions/thoughts/wishes you both have for the future of craft beer and brewing here in Kansas City?

 "We love this city and all that the craft beer scene has to offer, and that fact that it is ever changing and growing says a lot about the love we have as a community and family, "said Woodie. "Some of the best friends we have came from this “hobby” and we are beyond thankful for that. We really hope to see it continue to flourish!"

Get your tickets here to the festival:  Hip Hops Hooray Music & Beer Festival

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