Kate Heyhoe

Kate's Global Kitchen

May I See the Beer List, Please?

by Kate Heyhoe

If Garrett Oliver had his way, waiters would be opening more beer lists and beer bottles than those of wine. It's not that he's anti-wine. It's just that he's a brewmaster (of the Brooklyn Brewery) and has a passion for pairing beer with food. Good beer, that is. Not the watered down, bland, pale beers this country sells by the case.


"Before Prohibition," Oliver explains, "we had a vibrant brewing culture and thousands of breweries. Brooklyn alone had 48 breweries. But Prohibition destroyed the brewing industry, and after 12 years with no beer, the surviving breweries figured that people would be willing to drink almost anything. So they made the cheapest, blandest possible product, sold with huge amounts of advertising. Traditional beers are made from four essential ingredients: malted barley, yeast, hops and water. Some types of beers use both barley and wheat. In contrast, mass-market beers are usually made with fillers like corn or rice. It makes a big difference—it's one of the reasons that these mass-market beers are so flavorless." Fortunately, nearly 2,000 breweries in the U.S. today have brought real beer back to the public, and Oliver is out to educate people on how they're made, what to look for, and what to serve with them.

In The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, Garrett Oliver reveals how the complex flavors of beers can accentuate today's cuisine— whether it's a brightly citric Belgian wheat beer with a goat cheese salad, a sharply aromatic pale ale to complement spicy tacos, an earthy German bock beer to match a porcini risotto, a rich, strong Trappist ale with a hanger steak, or even a fruity framboise to accompany a slice of chocolate truffle cake. In the section below, he discusses the merits of pairing beer with food, and offers tips and pointers for doing so.

Oliver's book doesn't contain any recipes, but at the end of this page you'll find FoodWine's selection of recipes using beer as an ingredient. What to drink with them? The beer they're made with, of course. Or, being the pumpkin season, perhaps Oliver's own Post Road Pumpkin Ale, made with barley malt, pumpkins and spices along with the hops. "It sounds gimmicky," he says, "but it's very tasty, and it's also traditional. Pumpkin ales were very popular in the colonies around the time of the Revolutionary War." Here's to the revolution—in food and beer.


A Conversation with Garrett Oliver:
The Brewmaster's Table
Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food

What are the most important tips about matching beer and food?
First, relax. Beer is neither intimidating nor expensive, so you can afford to experiment to discover what types you like. I've never met anyone who, after being introduced to real beer, didn't enjoy some of them.

To match beer with food, you want to first match up the impact on your palate. You want to avoid overwhelming delicate foods with a beer with a huge flavor. So you'll match delicate food with delicately flavored beers. Then, you can match up some of the flavors in the food and the beer. I call this the "flavor hook"—the part of the beer's flavor that links up directly with the flavor in the food.

For example, Brooklyn Lager has some caramel flavors from caramelized malts, which give you some nice sweetness. This is a perfect match for grilled meats, which also have caramelized flavors from contact with the flames. Wine can't do this kind of match, but beer can. Or perhaps you have a Mexican dish with some flavors of lime and cilantro. Then you might want to get yourself an American pale ale. They tend to have very citrusy flavors and aromas from the American hops they use. Those hops match the cilantro perfectly, too.

Why do you feel that traditional beer is better with cheese than wine is?
Actually, most wine books and sommeliers will admit that matching wine and cheese is quite difficult, especially red wine. Cheese coats the tongue, blunting wine flavors, and wine doesn't tend to have flavors that harmonize with cheese. The best you can usually do is a nice contrast, but more often they clash. Beer, on the other hand, has carbonation to cleanse the palate and a broad range of flavors that link up with the flavors of the cheese. Aged Gouda, for example, has a big caramel flavor that is perfect with amber ales and lager; these beers have their own caramel flavors to match. Good cheddars are sharp, bright and fruity, and you could say the same about good American pale ale or Belgian farmhouse ale. The flavors meld together seamlessly. One of my favorite matches is barley wine, which is very strong, well-aged ale, matched with Stilton. It's even better than port with Stilton, and that's saying something—I love port. The beer, though, echoes the flavors in the cheese, and they become one magnificent flavor together. I've done a few beer and cheese tasting with sommeliers who bring wines to match the cheeses. I bring beers. I always win, but then again, it's unfair—I have the better match in the first place.

Can you really drink beer for dessert?
Yes—and there are two particularly great ones. One is strong stout. Stouts are beers made with malts that have been roasted like coffee beans. They taste like coffee and chocolate, and they're perfect matches for chocolate desserts. They match other desserts too—they work just like coffee. Most people who know stout have only had Guinness, which is a nice beer, but not a dessert beer. For dessert, you need a more robust version, and there are some great ones widely available.

The other great dessert style is traditional fruit beers, most of which are from Belgium. These have real fruit added to the beer at some stage of its aging. The beer picks up the flavor, aroma and sweetness of the fruit. The most commonly used fruits are raspberries and sour cherries. It's not a big leap to figure out why these are so good—they're perfect with chocolate, but also great with ice cream or cheesecake.

What is the best beer to drink with pizza, a hamburger, salmon (fish), or pasta?
With pizza, we want something with some snappy hops to cut through the cheese and a little bit of sweetness to match the sauce. American amber lagers and amber ales are a good choice here. Brooklyn Lager is my favorite, but there are a number of good ones out there. For a hamburger, you can do the same or you can up the ante and go for English or American brown ale. They have some nice flavors of caramel and roast, perfect to match the charred bits on your burger. Salmon is one of my favorite fish. If the salmon were poached, I would go for Belgian or German wheat beers. They're very light and spritzy, with nice fruity flavors. If the salmon is grilled, I love Belgian saisons, unfiltered farmhouse beers, with a dry, bright, spicy snappiness, plenty of fruit, and an underpinning of earth. If it's smoked, you can go with a traditional sharp pilsner, or if you're feeling adventurous you can even try a smoked beer from Alaska or Bamberg—these beers are made with smoked malts.

What is the most romantic type of beer?
Sweet raspberry lambic, a dessert type of beer from Belgium, is very romantic. It's bright red and looks great in a champagne flute. Barley wines are romantic, too—they're powerful, luscious, and get better with age. I think we all hope to do the same.

What happened to American beer? Why is it so bland?
The short answer is Prohibition. Before Prohibition, we had a vibrant brewing culture and thousands of breweries. Brooklyn alone had 48 breweries. But Prohibition destroyed the brewing industry, and after 12 years with no beer, the surviving breweries figured that people would be willing to drink almost anything. So they made the cheapest, blandest possible product, sold with huge amounts of advertising. And it worked, at least for a while. But real beer is now making an amazing comeback. In 1974, there were only 40 breweries left in the United States. Now there are almost 2,000, and the United States is probably the most exciting place in the world to enjoy good beer. It's been an amazing revolution within our food culture.

What is the strongest beer ever brewed?
These days, some brewers are making very small amounts of special beers with strengths of over 20 percent. The strongest beer made on a regular basis is probably Samiclaus of Austria at a little over 14 percent, but I'm sure there's someone who would claim that crown for another brewery. Some of these beers are just silly—and some of them are delicious. Every winter we make a beer called Brooklyn Monster Ale, which is very modest at about 12 percent. It's very warming and quite popular.


The Brewmaster's Table
Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food
by Garrett Oliver
Ecco; ISBN: 006000570X
Hardcover, 384 Pages
$29.95; $45.95 (CAN)

Buy the Book!


FoodWine's Cooking with Beer Recipes

Beer-Braised Brat Sandwiches
Corned Beef and Cabbage in Ale
Crunchy Blue Cheese Bread Croutons
Flemish Beef Stew Cooked in Beer
Sharp Ale Cheese
Pork Chops in Beer
Potatoes in Beer
Texas Cowboy Sour Beer Punch


Kate's Global Kitchen for October 2003:
10/03/03     May I See the Beer List, Please?
10/10/03     Cozy Dinners with Lora and Leslie
10/17/03     Rub Me Tender
10/24/03     A Kinder, Gentler Halloween
10/31/03     I Ain't No Vampire ('Cause Garlic Tastes Good to Me)


Copyright © 2003, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.


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