I’ve been to wine pairing and cocktail pairing dinners, but I just hit my first beer pairing dinner. I guess I’d never considered that with the variety of styles and flavor profiles available in beers now, there are enough subtle nuances to intrigue chefs and to bring out the best in their dishes.
KungFood Chu’s AmerAsia (521 Madison Ave., Covington, 859-261-6121) has always been Covington’s hot spot for both excellent Asian food and amazing beers, so it was a logical venue for a beer dinner, partnering with Schlafly Brewery and their distributor, Heidelberg. Schlafly’s celebrating their 21st anniversary — pretty good for a little brewpub that grew up in St. Louis in the shadow of the beer world’s giants.
Heidelberg rep Ryan Leitner told me that he does loads of pairing events with Danny Gold from the Party Source. They started out doing wine pairings, but Leitner prefers beer pairings now because of beer’s versatility, especially with spicy foods. The menu he put together with AmerAsia’s chef Johnny Chu for the Schlafly dinner didn’t skimp on spice.
• Summer lager served with cold cucumber salad with glass noodles: Most of the dishes at AmerAsia have a kick to them — it is “Kungfood,” after all — and this salad was no wallflower. The Helles was a nice summery contrast.
• Belgian Golden Ale with Dragon Breath wontons: My tasting notes for this course say “YUM!!” in caps, beside a gooey fingerprint. The ale was neither hoppy nor sweet, just perfectly balanced; and Chef Chu’s wontons are always a blast.
• Bourbon Barrel Ale with Hot Damn clams: These clams, sauced with garlic, ginger, black beans and basil, are an off-menu secret, but not for long
• Belgian Quad Ale with barbecue pork: The quadruple is a bold beer, with 12-percent alcohol. By this time, my notes were getting a little hazy.
• Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout with Johnny’s donuts: I now think stout and donuts should replace coffee and donuts for breakfast every day. Oh, c’mon, you big baby.
Leitner and Gold say they like to plan five-course pairings that “cover all the bases” from appetizer to dessert and give the chefs they’re working with a chance to get creative, venturing off their regular menus so guests get a sense of the beer’s body and flavor.
“With beer, there’s no limit to the ingredients you can use,” Gold says. “You don’t need to stay away from sour flavors, for example. There’s always something that will work.”
If you want to try pairings but don’t want an event with a pre-arranged menu, try BrewRiver GastroPub (2062 Riverside Drive, East End, 513-861-2484). BrewRiver and Listermann Brewing — a top-notch Cincinnati microbrewery and winner of the 2013 Ohio Brewery of the Year — recently announced that Brew-River’s house beers will now be brewed at the Triple Digit/Listermann Brewery on Dana Avenue. And at BrewRiver, every menu item has suggested pairings.
When BrewRiver’s chef, Michael Shields, starts the process of pairing food with beer, he starts with the suds. He won’t plan a menu for a beer dinner until he’s tasted each beer they plan to serve, and he always has a notebook in his pocket with tasting notes for future reference. Shields has been home brewing since the ’90s, and BrewRiver manager Joby Bowman says she has absolute respect for his knowledge.
“He has a great palate,” she says. “We’re lucky to have him as our partner.”
Shields explains that he either pairs beers that are complementary — that pick up the flavors of a dish — or one that contrasts with the food. For example, he puts Listermann’s Pre-Prohibition Lager with New Orleans barbecue shrimp — a beer that’s heavy on corn and therefore pretty sweet, with a dish that’s spicy.
With BrewRiver’s burger, which is juicy and rich, Shields suggests Jungle Honey Pale Ale. It starts sweet and finishes dry, he says, and “cuts through the fattiness and cleanses the palate.” With charcuterie, or with a creamy blue cheese or aged goat cheese, he suggests a Kölsch.
“You might think of Kölsch in a situation where otherwise you’d go for champagne,” he explained. “With cheeses, I like a double pale ale, a middle-of-the-road IPA or a Kölsch-style.”
Shields uses Stone Brewing Co.’s Arrogant Bastard Ale in his brownies, and you could drink that beer along with them. Another choice, though, would be a contrast like Listermann’s Leopold, a Belgian Blonde, which plays off the dark rich chocolate.
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