Gourmet dining assumes all shapes, sizes, and levels of foaminess these days, but one rule has remained constant: A fancy meal requires a bottle of wine. Or, it did until now. Turns out, nursing a 2012 Napa Cab with your deconstructed whatnot has become a bit passe. The new alternative: a sudsy, refreshing craft beer.
Dan Imdieke works for Blue Moon Brewing Company in the trendy River North neighborhood of Denver and is one of only 16 master cicerones -- a.k.a. beer sommeliers -- in the world. On any given week, he treks to chic events where beer isn't typically on the menu, like this year's Aspen Food & Wine Classic, to demonstrate the beverage's relevance through each interwoven sip.
"There are basic things to consider," Imdieke says. "First, you want to match the flavor intensity of the food and the beer so that one doesn't overwhelm the other." So, you know, no Roquefort with that light lager. "Next, you want harmony," he adds. "Remember, the flavors created in the cooking of malt are the exact compounds found in cooked food." For that reason, toasted or caramel-forward beers like Boont Amber Ale from Anderson Valley are excellent with grilled proteins. Meanwhile, the hops used to add bitterness to beer give off aromas echoed in herbs and spices such as basil, cilantro, and black pepper.
That said, Imdieke prefers to contrast his pints with what's on his plate. "At Blue Moon we have grilled kalbi beef short ribs that come with a sweet soy-based sauce and spicy kimchi. It'd be easy to pair them with a dark lager or stout to complement the roasty and sweet flavors, but we usually pair them with Mango Wheat." The dish amps up the tartness in the beer, while the roasted notes of the meat become more vivid. Imdieke compares the combo to "an island-style teriyaki with grilled fruit."
Another upside to beer pairing: Beers can be incredibly versatile. "Most are lower in alcohol and can play any role you want," Imdieke says. "They can be delicate and refreshing, or as complex as the best of wines." Plus, the added bonus of carbonation cleanses the palate -- a guarantee you'll get a fresh flavor experience with every bite.
Three Great Beer Pairings
Blue Moon Brewing Company, Denver The dish: Poached shrimp with spicy Thai dressing Pair it with: Blue Moon Belgian White. Its notes of orange peel and coriander amplify the shrimp's subtle sweetness and heat.
Treadwell Park, New York The dish: Cedar-planked salmon with "street-style" corn on the cob Pair it with: Chimay Triple Ale. The dried fruit and toasted bread notes of a Belgian ale contrast nicely with a fatty fish.
Bondir Cambridge, Cambridge, Mass. The dish: Pasture-raised chicken with eggplant and grilled cabbage Pair it with: The Lost Abbey Farmhouse Lager. The food's gentle umami notes resonate through the bitter finish of this crisp American lager.