Just like my t-shirt implies, beer and food are truly best friends. Never mind that jealous drama queen named wine. She matches well with plenty of different dishes, but she’s not the only booze on the block with pairing prowess.
But I’m not here to bash. I love wine. I think it’s delicious. It’s just that I love beer much, much more! (Are you surprised?) Lucky for me, beer has a few best friends in the food world, and I think I’ve found them.
Last month, I put together a beer and food pairing class for Red Rock Brewing Company, and had the arduous task of tasting my way through our beer and food menu. Some pairings were alright. One or two were even awful. But after a couple sessions, I discovered several ringers I think you’ll enjoy.
It takes some know-how and a bit of luck to find an excellent pairing (which was one of my first blog posts for Red Rock). An adventurous spirit and patience for experimentation are sure to lead you right on down tasty-as-hell lane. But until then, here’s my list of beer and food pairings for Red Rock Brewing Company.
Not all food or beer items are available at each Red Rock location. Please view the restaurant’s individual online menu or call ahead before making a special trip.
Blistered Shishito Peppers with German Pilsner (Draught)
Matching intensity is always the first step to finding a good pairing, and this one gave me a bit of trouble. The peppers have Hawaiian black lava salt on them, which gives a nice punch of saltiness on the first bite. I interpreted this as moderate intensity, which subsequently threw off all of my potential beer pairings. What I finally came to realize was the salty punch wore off quickly, yielding to a mellow, low intensity pepper. As soon as I figured it out, –boom– German Pilsner stepped in as a winner.
Why It Works…
Both the peppers and pilsner have low intensity. They also share a slightly sweet bready quality. The blistered skin of the peppers resonates with the hop bitterness of the pilsner. The slightly sweet bell pepper quality of the peppers enhances the bitterness of the pilsner, which also has a slightly peppery quality. The carbonation from the pilsner scrubs away the slightly oily character of the peppers. Overall, this pairing works on both complementary and contrasting levels because each item has its own bitterness and sweetness.
Bruschetta with Dortmunder Export Lager (Bottled)
Bruschetta is one of my favorite food dishes on the planet. Super fresh ingredients on a crunchy, bite-sized piece bread? Yes, please. I’ll take 20. Being such a tasty morsel in its own right, I wanted to pick a beer that would gently compliment and uplift the food flavors I love. Easy-going Dortmunder was the perfect beer for the job.
Why It Works…
Both the lager and bruschetta have moderate intensity, and share a bready character. The slight, malty sweetness of the lager provides contrast with the salty and tangy qualities of the bruschetta. The herbal notes from the bruschetta are complemented by the gently bitter finish of the lager. The oily, creamy quality of the bruschetta is scrubbed off the palate by the lager’s carbonation. Overall, this pairing works on a complementary level, creating complexity.
House Smoked Cured Salmon with Le Quatre Saison (Bottled)
There’s a whole lot going on here. In terms of intensity, this smoked salmon dish is a heavy weight, and it’s important to find a beer that can take a few hits. A beer with high alcohol content would be a good choice, but I wanted a beer that would compare and contrast with the food, not just cut the intense flavors. I originally thought Le Quatre would be a good match for the shishito peppers, but their surprisingly low intensity was crushed by the citrusy, tart fermentation character. That’s when I discovered the smoked salmon and saison had a bit of an affinity for one another. This pairing covers all the bases for a desirable match made in
heaven my mouth.
Why It Works…
The salmon dish has a slightly higher intensity than the saison, but balance is maintained by the beer’s fermentation character. The bold briny and onion characters of the capers and red onion accentuate the peppery character of the saison and vice versa. The saltiness of the salmon and capers contrasts with the gentle sweetness and fruitiness of the saison. The carbonation of the saison scrubs the palate clean of the mouth coating character of the cream cheese. The smokiness of the salmon and tanginess of the sourdough resonate with the saison’s fermentation character. Overall, this pairing works because the saison cuts some of the stronger flavors in the salmon dish while accentuating some of the more subtle ones.
Baked Italian Cheese Dip with Nut Brown Ale (Draught)
I consider this the non-calorie-counter’s bruschetta. It has similar fresh ingredients, but it’s smothered in ten times the cheese. What better way to compliment a nutty, gooey, bready, piece of yum than with a beer that literally has “nut” in it’s name? Nut Brown was a no brainer. For those of you wondering, nut brown ales do not typically have nuts in them. They’re called nut brown ales because of the nutty character derived from the malt. In any case, it’s an easy, tasty match.
Why It Works…
Both the nut brown and cheese dip have moderate intensity, and share a nutty, bready character. The gentle sweetness of the dip contrasts with the roasty bitterness of the nut brown. The thick, mouth coating cheesiness of the dip is scrubbed off the palate by the carbonation of the nut brown. Overall, this pairing works on a complimentary level. The nut brown adds subtle complexity while the herbal, rich qualities of the cheese dip remain in the spotlight.
Carrot Cake with Elephīno Double IPA (Bottled)
Welcome to my favorite pairing of all time. If you only ever try one pairing from this list, this is the one. It’s stupid easy, and stupid delicious. I don’t have anything else to say.
Why It Works…
Both the IPA and cake have moderately high intensity. The high bitterness of the IPA contrasts with the high sweetness of the cake. The citrusy, floral notes of the IPA complement the spices in the cake. The tanginess, richness, and sweetness of the cake is cut by the alcohol content of the IPA. The carbonation of the IPA scrubs the palate clean of the creaminess of the cake icing. Overall, this pairing works as a result of multiple levels of complimentary and contrasting flavors.
Cinnamon & Brown Sugar Ice Cream with Drioma Russian Imperial Stout (Bottled)
This pairing works a little bit different than the other pairings listed here. With this one, you’re not going to take a bite of food and then a sip of beer. No, you’re going to take that scoop of ice cream and plop it right on into your stout glass. WARNING! Do not do that the other way around (pour the beer on the ice cream), unless you enjoy a glass of foam that will last longer than your patience. Try this one at home, folks!
Why It Works…
Both the stout and ice cream have moderately high intensity, and share both sweetness and richness. The roasty bitterness of the stout contrasts with the sweetness of the ice cream. The brown sugar from the ice cream provides a caramelly quality that compliments the darker malt character of the stout. The spiciness of the cinnamon from the ice cream adds complexity while gently accentuating the stout’s alcohol. Overall, this pairing works on a complementary level, creating a sort of alcoholic milkshake.
- Masterful Pairings of Beer and Food
This was the first blog post I ever wrote for Red Rock. Learn the basics of beer and food pairing here.
- Red Rock Beer School
Join me at the Red Rock Beer School in Salt Lake City for a class on beer and food pairing. The next beer and food pairing class is yet to be determined, but you can expect to see it advertised in the next few months. Email me to sign up for Red Rock Beer School notifications: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food – Garret Oliver
For a truly in depth look under the hood of beer and food pairings, Garret Oliver’s book is a must.