Beer for Thought

May 2 4 weekend; Canada Day; Labour Day; Hockey Night in Canada—without beer would be very sobering experiences indeed. Beer is the quintessential Canadian beverage, and yet Canada ranks 17th in the world for beer consumption. The average Canadian consumes about 70 litres (210 bottles) of beer each year–not much when compared to the more than one and a half bottles a day for every man, woman and child in Ireland and the Czech Republic.

One area where beer consumption is growing is in food pairings. As we become more sophisticated diners, and more knowledgeable about our food; we want to find the best pairings. Beer, too, is being reconsidered as a hip choice. In terms of calories, it only really adds up when you add chicken wings and pizza. To learn the beer essentials, we sign up for a three-hour class at Bartender One, where beer cicerone, Steve Riley, educates us about the brewing process and different styles of beer; and leads us through a tasting, explaining what to look for, how to pour, how to handle the glass, and ultimately, how to taste.

When it comes to pairings, Riley asserts that beer is a better pair with food than wine. Why? There are more ingredients in beer, more flavours and more possibilities. Wine is made from fermented grapes; beer, from malted barley, hops—as regional as grapes—brewer’s yeast—unique to each brewery—and water, which changes by location. Some beer contains orange peel, coriander, maple syrup, Belgian yeast, or even coffee. “Try to find a wine that pairs with spicy food or salad” Riley challenges us. “Out of the million wine labels that are out there, there’s not a whole lot that does, but there’s a ton of beer”, he answers. Beer has varying degrees of bitterness–not a characteristic of wine. Beer is carbonated and cleanses the palate.

After class we head to Allen’s to put our new found knowledge to good use. Restaurateur, John Maxwell, shares with us his view on the subject.

Pairing can be done by complimenting, cutting or contrasting. To compliment we must match flavour intensities and look for similar flavours. If we have roasted meat, we look for roasted malt. Smooth goes well with creamy. If we have a spinach salad tossed with mandarin oranges, we look for a beer with orange peel, like a Ricard’s White. As with wine, we must look at the whole dish: how is it cooked?

For “cutting” we must consider that the hoppier the beer, the more easily it cuts through fattiness. Hoppy beer matched to spicy dishes accentuates the spice. Pair a spicy dish with a sweet, malty beer, and it takes the spice away. A good contrast would be a full flavoured dish with light bodied beer; or a dry stout like a Guinesss or a Mill Street Tank House paired with oysters. The options are endless.

While the next long weekend is on the horizon, we don’t need too much convincing to have friends over for a dinner tasting and pairing with beer. Canada: we can do better than 17th!

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