One of the benefits of having a weekly column focused on culinary exploits is the freedom to write about anything that catches your fancy, as long as it tastes good. For that reason, this week’s column is focused on beer. As we move into the autumn season, many rich seasonal beers will be brought to market, and it’s a great time of the year to enjoy good beer.
Taken from the book called “The Short Course in Beer” is the following: “Beer is, at its best, a philosopher’s drink. It stimulates sensitive souls to ask questions without arousing the arrogance that might lead them to easy answers.” Obviously this was not written to describe your typical watery, heavily carbonated beverages that try to pass themselves off as “beer.” This was meant to describe real beer, which is full of flavor and personality.
Interestingly enough, there were numerous breweries all over the country prior to prohibition in 1919 – more than 1,500 of them. This prohibition period witnessed the underground growth of spirits, as you could pack a lot more punch in a smaller container for transport. Remember, all booze was illegal, and it was easier to deliver and hide spirits such as vodka, gin and whiskey. Many breweries closed during prohibition, and when prohibition ended in 1933, the economic depression slowed the rebirth of most breweries. Flavorful local and regional brands were replaced by national brands whose strength was their advertising, not their flavor. Until 20 years ago or so, that's where we were stuck. But, we have seen a resurgence of craft beers. While beer consumption is decreasing, the consumption of beer with flavor (craft beers) is actually increasing.
Let's briefly discuss beer styles and definitions, realizing there is a lot of flexibility in all of this. Consider this list as a very generic starting point.
Beer: A fermented (typically carbonated) drink made from grain and flavored with hops.
Ale: Believe it or not there is no legal definition of “ale” in the United States. So, let's move to Wikipedia. “Ale is brewed from malted barley using a warm-fermentation with a strain of brewers' yeast. The yeast will ferment the beer quickly, giving it a sweet, full bodied and fruity taste. Most ales contain hops, which help preserve the beer and impart a bitter herbal flavor that balances the sweetness of the malt.”
Lager: Compliments of Wikipedia again: “Lager is a type of beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures. Pale Lager is the most widely consumed and commercially available style of beer in the world. Bock, Pilsner and Marzen are all styles of lager.”
Now let's talk about food with beer. First and foremost, don't be hamstrung by opinions of others. Drink and eat what pleases you. The days of aloof and steadfast pairing rules are over. Consider these pointers as a starting point. Experiment and see what you like. Search the internet for great pairing suggestions.
Pale Ales: Match up well with salads, light appetizers and seafood.
IPAs: Known for their strong hoppiness. This beer stands up well to spicy foods. Also goes well with pizza, pork and BBQ.
Wheat Beers: Fruit, lettuce and grain salads, and desserts,
Amber Ales: This delicious brew goes with anything, in my humble opinion.
Stouts and Porters: These dark and rich beers go well with any meat dish. Also pair beautifully with chocolatey desserts, assuming you still have room!
Give different flavors a try. There are subcategories of this listed about, and sub-subcategories. It's really fascinating the more you delve into it. Expand your culinary universe with craft beers.
Dave Lobeck is a barbecue chef from Sellersburg, Ind., who writes the "BBQ My Way" column for CNHI News Service. Visit his website at www.BBQ-My-Way.com.