Charlotte Beer Day

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , on July 3, 2014 by cueball

cBefore I do my  yearly reading of the first draft of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (because I am a geek), Eightball and I went to Charlotte for a mental health day.  We started in my beloved Alexander Michael’s for lunch, next we hit Duckworth’s on Park Road before hitting Total Wine for beer (mine) and cigars (Eightball), closed with Noda Brewing and some Coco Loco.  It was a very good day.  Food pairing will resume soon.  I’m a  huge soccer fan and I am all up in the World Cup right now. I hope to have a pairing up next Tuesday.


Noda Brewing Coco Loco


Homemade Pizza Paired With Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2014 by cueball

Beer and Pizza

One of the few truths of beer and food pairing is this:  Unless you have a skunked beer or use crappy ingredients for the sauce or crust or use moldy mozzarella, then there is little if no way to screw up a beer and pizza pairing.  Pick a good pale ale and quality ingredients and you have a successful pairing.

So, to up the difficulty of this pairing I made the crust and the sauce for the pizza.  One of the truisms of home brewing is the best beer you will ever taste is a beer that you brewed (no matter how bad that home brew may be, trust me).  The same can be said for pizza.  When I decided to do everything from scratch it was not the sauce that worried me.  It is a good simple recipe that still packs a good sweet (carrots and my own idea: brown sugar) and garlicky taste.  I like pizza sauce a little sweeter than pasta sauce.

The crust worried me.  The last time I made a crust for a veggie pot pie and that did not work as well I had hoped.  This actually came out light and airy.  It is a little doughy, which as long as I keep making it will get better.

Pizza Sauce

Sauce and Homemade CrustAbout to go into the ovenFinished Product

Since this is my summer of wheat, the beer I chose was one of my favorites, Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale.  It is a pale wheat ale, but since it is a Lagunitas brew it is a hoppy pale wheat, much hoppier then the Southern Tier 422.  The 422 might go a little better because without the hops it would provide more of a complement to the sauce.  The Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ works just fine as a contrast to the sauce.Little Sumpin' Sumpin'

Question, what if I had not added the brown sugar to the recipe?  Would Sumpin’ Sumpin’ taste better with the sauce?  Once you get past the basics of pairings and start to really think about the tastes of individual beers and ingredients you put in your recipes these are things that make pairing and cooking really fun.  To an extent you can manipulate the taste of the meal and beer just by shifting choices slightly.  Instead of 422 choose Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’.  Add brown sugar, take away green bell peppers.  Add a few dashes of lemon-pepper seasoning.  Each of these choices affects the other ingredients and/or how the beer pairs with the food either as a complement or as a contrast.

This is one of those cases where the pairing guides you read will tell you a pale ale works with pizza.  What those guides do not tell you is that picking different beers from the recommended style changes the nature of the pairing.  Again, the best way to figure out what beers will pair with what foods is to taste a lot of beers and learn more about the actual beer styles.  The three books that have helped me the most in pairing are Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher He Said Beer, She Said Wine by Sam Calagione and Marnie Old, The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver, and Beer, Food, and Flavor by Schuyler Schultz.  Any of these is a great place to start.

What Do I Love About Craft Beer…To Begin, With Everything

Posted in beer with tags , , on June 4, 2014 by cueball

William Miller:  “So Russell…what do you love about music?”

Russell Hammond:  “To begin with, everything.”

Almost Famous

This started off as a simple exercise in me thinking about what I look for in a good beer.  As is my wont, my mind started spinning out into different directions and I actually ended up writing about New Criticism and authorial intent as it regards brewers.

As is also my wont, if I see myself over-complicating the obvious (with good reason in this case) I stepped back and simplified.  Thinking about what I look for in a beer is complicated by the ideas of why I like beer and choose craft beer in the first place.  More on this later.

To put it simply, what I look for any a beer is does it balance all of its ingredients in a way that makes the sum greater than its parts.  Beer is not a smoothie it is a salad.  In a smoothie you are blending all the ingredients into one drink that subsumes all the ingredients into one taste.  A salad is a co-mingling of elements that respects and uses all the taste and texture of all the independent elements.

Beer is the same way.  You are not hiding the taste of the hops.  You are not hiding the taste of the malt.  You are using the elements of each to complement and highlight the other ingredients.

That is the basis of why I fell in love with craft beer.  I love puzzles and drinking a good craft beer is, for me, an attempt to unravel a puzzle of how four basic ingredients were turned into this thing I am drinking, which has a wholly different taste then the thing I drank yesterday made from the same basic ingredients.

However, it is the people and the community that have popped up around this idea of better beer that makes it worthwhile.  In the craft beer community there is the idea that this is about more than just producing something to make a profit.  Don’t get it twisted; profit is important because brewers need to eat to.  However, the idea is to make something worthwhile.  To craft a product that you enjoy making that truly gives others pleasure in order to make a profit.

Craft beer is not a disposable empty product you will forget about five minutes after you drink it.  Craft beer, brewing coffee, brewing tea, the whole food movement in general are all attempts by people to step away from the disposable society we live in now.  People have started to understand how unhealthy both mentally and physically that type of society is, and find ways around it.

That is why craft beer has gone from a puzzle that fascinates me to my line in the sand (sorry I couldn’t come up with anything better) against a society that places fast and disposable ahead of good.  Fast and disposable are not inherently bad, but too often they are accompanied by cheap which is always the enemy of good.

I hope some of this makes sense.  It was rather self-indulgent (not as self-indulgent as the first draft).  It serves as a warm up to making a pizza from scratch (crust and sauce and some to be determined toppings) this afternoon and pairing a beer with it.

Eggplant Parmigiana and Southern Tier Pale Wheat Ale

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2014 by cueball

Eggplant Parmigiana and 422 Pale Wheat AleWhat do you match the beer with?  That is the central question you always have to answer.  In this case, the dish was Eggplant Parmigiana.  Now, eggplant is not a vegetable with a large taste.

Eggplant ParmigianaSo, how do you match a beer to a dish whose central ingredient does not contribute substantially to the overall taste?  In this case, I matched the sauce and Italian bread crumbs used on the eggplant to give it more texture.

The sauce I used was very simple:  tomatoes, onions, and a ton of spices including oregano, lemon-pepper, basil, and bay leaves.  Those seasonings and the seasoning in the Italian bread crumbs and the sweetness from the tomatoes and onions needed a beer with a touch of sweetness and the lightness of the eggplant suggested a lighter beer.  That’s why I choose the Southern Tier 422 Pale Wheat Ale.

First off, the dish was good.  Eggplant is not my favorite vegetable.  However, eggplant parmesan is a good dish.  Not great and I
think that goes back to the sauce.  It was not filled with as much flavor as I had hoped.  I think there will need to be some changes to the recipe to make the dish a little better.  If you like onions it is a great recipe, but I would have preferred more tomato sauce.  Even with the breadcrumbs the eggplant did not contribute much the taste of the dish.

This was my first attempt at eggplant parmesan as well as the first time I had the 422 Pale Wheat Ale.  It almost tastes like a Hefeweizen or other German style wheats, but it doesn’t have the banana/clove taste from yeast and fermentation.  That was probably a plus.  It still has the wheat sweetness and bread notes that matched the sweetness of the sauce and the bread crumbs.  It has a nice refreshing taste and mouthfeel.

Southern Tier 422 Pale Wheat AleThe thing that I am finding is that lighter beers, pale ales, wheat beers, blond ales, work better for Italian dishes then darker beers.  Maybe a brown ale or barley wine would work.  India Pale Ales should also work, but double IPAs maybe too much for a dish like this.  A bigger beer might work for lasagna.

Will I try this combination again?  Probably.  It was successful as the beer worked well with the dish, but the dish was not as good as it will be once I work on a new sauce recipe.

Quorn Chik’n Cutlets cooked in a balsamic vinegar reduction with herbed steamed potatoes and steamed broccoli with a Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2014 by cueball

Duck-Rabbit Brown AleThe goal of any pairing is to highlight flavors in both the beer and the food that may not be immediately noticeable when each is taken on its own.   You are trying to find something that you haven’t noticed before in each that will in turn highlight something in the other. You want the food and the beer to play off each other like a good basketball or soccer team.  This is true whether you are going for a complementary pairing or a contrasting pairing.  You are attempting to orchestrate something that is greater and different from the individual parts you are using.  This is much like what chefs do when creating new dishes and brewers do when creating new beers.

In the case of the Quorn cutlets in the balsamic vinegar reduction, I was going for a complementary pairing.  It seemed like a simple match.  A sweet balsamic vinegar reduction paired with a not so sweet brown ale (also one of my favorites), Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.  In my mind I hoped the caramel notes in the balsamic would play off of the caramel notes in the Brown Ale without having to worry about the sweetness of the beer’s malt getting in the way and hoping the hops would play a more prominent role.

To be clear it did not fail as a pairing, but it did not work as I had hoped.  It almost worked.

The reduction was pretty basic.  It was a half cup of balsamic vinegar with two teaspoons of lemon juice, a teaspoon of honey (maybe I should have eliminated this), and pepper and chili powder to add a bit of spiciness.  It was a sweet reduction bordering on syrupy.  However, the lemon juice cut into the sweetness and brightened it a bit.

The problem was that the reduction and the Brown Ale didn’t really work together as much as cancel each other out.  Now, if I had eliminated the honey and then increased the lemon juice, would that have changed it?  I don’t know, but I will change the recipe and find out later.

I believe with how the recipe was constructed it would have benefited more from a hoppier beer or a beer with more citrusy flavors to contrast with the reduction.  Something like a west coast style pale ale (not an IPA) or a hefewiezen/wheat beer.

Usually when I’m thinking about a pairing I gravitate towards complimentary pairing.  It seems easier to put like tastes next to each other and hope they bring out something additional in each other. However, this pairing is a good illustration that the contrasting pairing works just as well as the complimentary pairing and in this case sometimes better.

What happened was the two like flavor profiles canceled each other out.  Nothing could be highlighted because the comparison was too close and the flavor profiles of each were much too strong.  They each needed something to go against to really shine.  A food that has a really strong flavor needs a beer that has some form of strong contrast to bring out the best in both.  In this case a hoppy West Coast style pale ale (not an IPA) would have done wonders with the taste of the reduction.  Alternately, I have been trying to think of a good dessert to pair with a brown ale and I am beginning to think it is not some kind of chocolate dish, but maybe a fruit based desert that may work better.

Penne Pasta with Alfredo Sauce and Steamed Broccoli and Asparagus paired with Flying Dog Brewery’s In-Heat Wheat Hefeweizen

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2014 by cueball
Flying Dog's In-Heat Wheat pairs wonderfully with this pasta dish

Flying Dog’s In-Heat Wheat pairs wonderfully with this pasta dish

I started with the idea of making a lighter spring/summer vegetable dish.  I found this Alfredo sauce recipe on and decided that asparagus and broccoli would be the perfect match for it.  Once I had the recipe I wanted I knew I wanted a lighter summer beer.  I looked at the recipe and figured out the dominant tastes would be the creamy sauce and the asparagus and broccoli.  That was pretty easy to figure out since outside of the penne they are the only things in the recipe.

The next question was do I want the beer to complement or contrast the flavors?  What would be the best way to highlight the food and the beer together?  I did not find that many recommendations for pairings with an Alfredo sauce and the ones I did find recommended pale ale.  Honestly, those are useless recommendations without naming a specific pale ale.  Pales are not necessarily light enough to work with a light summer dish nor do they have enough carbonation to work with a sauce that is as cloying as an Alfredo sauce, unless you are recommending one of the lighter spring/summer seasonal pales like Little Hump from Highland Brewing.  Thinking about the recipe, my mind went in a different direction immediately anyway:  hefeweizens or witbiers.

Then I just had to choose a beer.  So, I went down to Dragonfly and bought a handful of different hefeweizens and witbiers that I like, Weeping Willow Wit, Orange Avenue Wit, Shotgun Betty, and In-Heat Wheat.  Any of them would have worked, but I choose the In-Heat Wheat.

In-Heat has a classic hefeweizen taste of cloves and bananas from the yeast, a lot of carbonation, and it is light on the tongue.  The one thing that worried me about using a wheat beer was the cloves and banana.  I was not sure how that would go with the sauce and the vegetables.

I was surprised by how the cloves and bananas complemented the asparagus and the sauce.  This sauce is good because it adapts to whatever it is being served with including beer and the light vegetable flavor of the asparagus also fit with the taste of the beer nicely.  Where this beer works better than a pale ale is in the lightness and the carbonation.  The lightness fit with the overall feel of the dish and the carbonation cut through the sauce keeping it from being too heavy and overwhelming the vegetables and pasta.

Penne Pasta with creamy Alfredo Sauce and steamed Asparagus and Broccoli

Penne Pasta with creamy Alfredo Sauce and steamed Asparagus and Broccoli

One of the lighter spring or summer seasonal pales would have worked because of their lightness and would have brought a different flavor profile because of their hoppy vegetal taste.  That would have placed more of the emphasis on the vegetables instead of the sauce.  The yeasty taste of a wheat beer moves the emphasis to the sauce instead of the vegetables and in turn, with this sauce in particular, the sauce accepts some of the tastes of the beer highlighting both.  That yeasty sweetness also complemented the vegetables without getting in their way giving me a good summer pairing.

Mixed Vegetable Frittata and Allagash White Food/Beer Pairing

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by cueball

This may be my favorite pairing so far and it will probably stay as one of my favorites for a good while.  Why?  It was a purely spontaneous pairing.

This is what happened.  I spent the morning as I do on Saturdays watching Premiere League soccer and cleaning my house.  I met Eightball for lunch at my favorite place in Shelby for beer (today the newly tapped Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale) and food, Pleasant City.  Then I went over to my local beer store, Dragonfly Wine Market, tasted  few of my favorite North Carolina beers (Lonerider: Sweet Josie and Shotgun Betty; Mother Earth Brewing Endless River; and Highland Brewing Oatmeal Porter) and purchased more beer then I should have but not as much as a I wanted.

I arrived back home and almost drove to the grocery store (which would have been my third trip in two days) when I decided to look at what I had laying around.  For whatever reason, the milk, eggs, and frozen vegetables jumped out at me.  A frittata would be a great light dinner with a lot of flavor. So I went through my recipe books and found a recipe for a pasta frittata.  I didn’t have pasta, so I just substituted the vegetables and added some Parmesan cheese to make it all come together and in 30 minutes I had nice light and feathery tasting frittata.

As soon as I decided on the frittata, I knew exactly what I was going to pair it with.  Taking advice from the ur-text of beer and food pairing, The Brewmaster’s Table, witbier was the obvious choice of what is currently in my fridge.  Luckily, my only witbier at the moment was the Allagash White.

First off, as it should, Allagash White pours a little cloudy and has a nice quickly disappearing head.  On the nose, you get a little bit of cloves from the yeast and the orange peel and coriander among others from the added spices.  On the front of the taste, you get the bright orange peel/citrusy taste with the cloves, coriander, and other spices coming along behind.  On the finish there is a touch of wheat that makes you want another sip.

The White’s orange peel and coriander flavors matched perfectly with the brunchy nature of dinner.  Even with its substantive and full flavor it is light enough to not over power the eggs, milk, and Parmesan mixture.  The frittata is a great last second way to use up extra food.  You can use any filler you want:  pasta, mixed vegetables, spinach, ham, sausage, etc.  In this case I used frozen mixed vegetables to make a quick simple meal.  I also love to use left over pasta or almost caramelized onions.  With the frittata you can make it taste however you want by changing the filler ingredients and the cheese used to bind it together.

This meal would have been better with fresh vegetables, but I was in a hurry and wanted to do something simple.  Isn’t this is how most people deal with wanting to cook something at the after a long day at work or at the last minute to help make a real meal:  What’s in my fridge and pantry that will let me make something that tastes good and is relatively easy?  The next time I’ll get vegetables and chop them and add different flavors and textures to make this better, but because of the situation and how I was feeling at the time this was almost perfect.

This was the essence of what I really want to do.  Find simple, maybe not easy, foods that anyone can make and then try to match them with beer?  In this case I choose a light brunch/breakfast type food for dinner.  To match with that I wanted to first find something that was light and had a profile that was reminiscent of orange juice.  Witbiers are the perfect beer for that situation.

Now, this may be the first of two food and beer posts this weekend.  Eightball and I are probably going to watch Daytona tomorrow.  What beer goes best with driving around in circles for 500 miles?


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