Beer and Food, Perfect Together--by Bryan Kolesar
The holidays of November and December are full of reasons to eat and drink well and often. Beer dinners add another great reason.
Beer dinners can be found on the beer events calendar during any month of the year. However, they are more prevalent in the months of November and December than any other. Maybe it's the dip of the thermometer into colder temperatures or maybe it's the gradual waning of daylight and warmer weather responsibilities of yard work, kids sports, and travel.
Whatever the reason, breweries and restaurants get together for beer dinners more often during this time of year than any other. And they, in turn, give you great opportunities to experiment with various flavors and aromas both on your plate and in your glass.
For the uninitiated, beer dinners tend to include four to six courses of food, each paired with a different beer. Sometimes, more than one beer is paired with a course of food to offer alternative flavors from different breweries. For this size dinner, the price range will typically fall in the $50-$80 range depending mostly upon the nature of the beers being served and any invited speakers or chefs. You'll probably discover that for the amount and quality of food and beer paired with the uniqueness of a special dinner event, this price tag almost always turns out to be a very good deal.
Beer dinners typically focus on a particular brewery and, as such, representatives are present to discuss the beers and the intended flavor pairings. Some of the best beer dinners are those where both the chef and the brewer stand up for a minute or two to discuss how they came to pair each of the courses of food and beer and what it means to them.
Locally, the eight Iron Hill locations around the Delaware Valley host seasonal beer dinners to showcase their constantly rotating specialty beers paired with fresh, sometimes local, and seasonally-appropriate food. Iron Hill's kitchen and brewhouses have done many of these and have perfected the art of a beer dinner.
McKenzie Brew House began offering beer dinners last year and they have quickly become a hit as well. Considering the number of brewing awards that their brewers have racked up over the past few years, it's not surprising that their beer dinners have also gathered acclaim. The Drafting Room and Victory Brewing will also host occasional beer dinners to highlight the wonders of beer and food pairings.
In Philadelphia, beer dinners are plentiful. There are highly sought-after monthly dinners at the famed Monk's Café, high-end dinners at Iron Chef Jose Garces' Chifa Restaurant, and beer dinners that pop up at other bona fide beer venues around the city such as Jose Pistolas, Hawthornes, Brauhaus Schmitz, and The Belgian Café.
So what to look for in a beer dinner and the food pairings? It may sound like a cop-out to say "figure it out for yourself because taste is an extremely personal thing". In some ways it is cop-out and in some ways, it's exactly what you should do. Obviously, the chef and brewer have much experience in the world of flavors, aromas, and tastes. They have some pre-conceived notions about how well things should go together during a dinner.
Sometimes they are shooting for flavors, textures, and aromas that contrast each other so that both the food and the beer have a chance to be distinctive and shine. Other times, they are looking for complimenting flavors, textures, and aromas where the food and the beer can come together to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Take, for example, one of the most frequent dessert and beer pairings in the last course of a beer dinner--a hearty, rich stout or a smooth, potent barleywine paired with a chocolate-based dessert. The richness of both combined together brings smiles and contentment every time.
But, there's no better way to figure this all out than to get out there and do it for yourself. There's no right or wrong, just what tastes good to you. So give yourself and/or someone on your gift list the gift of great beer and food this holiday season and search out a beer dinner at a local brewery or restaurant. It's a good bet that it will leave a longer impression than a box of socks and underwear in your stocking.