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Beer and food 

Gourmet beer pairings are all the rage, but nothing beats good ol’ pizza and beer

Bob and Doug MacKenzie. Those toque-wearing, Rush-worshiping hosers are arguably the classiest part of the image cultivated by the beer industry. It's sad, but even though advertising executives may suggest that the entire beer-chugging market is made up of frat boys and gyrating girls, it simply isn't true.

Whether you went for a beer on the pier in the summer at the Seaport Beer Festival or found yourself at the Hart & Thistle for their beer and appetizers, you know that gourmand-friendly beer pairings are picking up steam in the restaurant world.

Drew Curlett, sommelier at Premier Wine & Spirits, has definitely seen this trend hit an upswing. "When it comes to matching food and beverages, people usually think of wine," he says. "But there is more interest than ever before on food and beer pairings."

While snootier sommeliers might clutch their tastevin before fainting dead away at the idea of a beer pairing, it would be for naught. "People are really interested in trying new things, in changing their approach with food," says Daniel Girard, brewmaster at Garrison Brewing.

The increasing complexity of craft beers, with their unique profiles and flavour notes that can include fruits, vegetables and a host of other ingredients that add sweetness, spiciness or nuttiness, has given beer a flexibility for pairing that many would argue eclipses that of wine. "There are about 125 different styles of ales and lagers in the world, and a wide range of flavour profiles to be found within those styles," says Propeller's manager of sales, Andrew Cooper.

"Craft beers are generally more flavourful and complex than mainstream products," Girard explains. "Depending on the style, a good craft-brewed beer has specific qualities that will subtly marry your food. The reason for that may be its aromatics, caramel flavors, roasted flavors, bitterness, alcohol level, acidity, residual sweetness or the use of non-traditional ingredients."

Much like wine, there are two distinct schools of thought on what works best with beer pairings. You either find things in common, or things that contrast. But if you're looking to do a little less thinking and a lot more drinking, the keep-it-simple-stupid rule for pairings is to treat lighter, crisp beers like lagers like white wines, and robust, sweet ales as the reds.

Whatever you do, you shouldn't feel bound by focus on the main ingredient in your dish. There are certainly beers that pair beautifully with specific proteins, but you can also look to pair with sauces or other subtler notes or spices in the dish.

The flexibility of beer also echoes the versatility of sparkling wine in the one thing they have in common---bubbles. "The carbonation level that beer has as a natural by-product of the fermentation gives a refreshing impression and cleanses the palate," says Girard. "After sipping on a beer, your tasting buds are restored and able to enjoy the flavours that come next."

Just look at beer's happy relationship with its eternal soulmate, pizza. The light bitterness and relatively high carbonation of a pilsner cuts through the oil and cheese, but doesn't overpower the food. It's perfection.

But finding that middle ground is very important in all pairings; you don't want to overwhelm your palate. If you're doing more than one course, start out the evening light, with wheat beers, fruit beers or light lagers, moving to a more medium-bodied IPA or ale and rounding out the night with heavier stout or porter, or barleywine as a digestif.

Ultimately your favourite beers are going to make for your favourite pairings, so keep that in mind and keep an open mind. "Be experimental," says Cooper. "Have fun with it!"

You'll know it's a good pairing when you can't help but say "beauty, eh?"

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Vol 26, No 39
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