A Good Beer Blog

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Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


Comments

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beerinator -

Ah come on... We don't NEED to pair beer with food, but in some cases it works very well.

You can drink and eat as you have for years, but there is no denying that a raspberry chocolate cake pairs phenomenally with a stout. I've had a citrusy IPA paired with a Mango Sorbet that made the hairs on my arms tingle.

Beer, like many other things in life, can pair beautifully with food if you give it a chance.

Aaron -

Call it what you will, I look at beer as a food. So I don't see the issue in consciously attempting to enhance your food/beer experience by "pairing" one to the other. It's the reason I don't drink orange juice with my steak.

Instead of coming up with "here's the definitive list of beers that go with bleu cheese", I've focused on the three C's...complement, contrast, or cut. I've turned good meals into memorable ones with that in mind.

Tim -

It seems that most of the interest in pairing comes from people that are selling beer dinners or books. Like you, I'm not buying it.

Joe Stange -

It can be fun to play with pairings. My issue is that there are so few that really sing... while there are plenty of foods and beers that simply go well together without one complaining about the other.

However, even those so-so pairings can get people orgasmically rolling their eyeballs if you throw a spotlight on them and get them to really pay attention to what they're tasting... something we do too seldom when we eat and drink. There is a little sleight of hand involved.

markdredge -

Alan, I should probably apologise firstly, my response was terse, facetious, throwaway and unhelpful.

You see, 'simply eating and drinking' has served us perfectly well, literally FOREVER, but there is the possibility to do more than simply open a bottle and drink it with dinner. Some things just don't work: lager and chocolate pudding, for example, and some pairings which are considered to be winners are sometimes flawed - DIPA with hot chilli, which in my opinion is a car crash waiting to happen.

I am with you that we shouldn't have 'rules' and that eating and drinking should be relaxed, fluid and fun. If the beer doesn't improve the food then so what? Just enjoy them separately. Maybe it's the word and the process of 'intellectually' 'pairing' that you don't like, but it seems like you naturally 'pair' food anyway, from what you have said. Seafood and reginal ales, ploughmans and English pale ales... these are successful pairings, even if it's just psychological by association to a place.

Ultimately it probably comes down to a desire to treat beer like wine. It's also routed to encourage people to drink beer with their food as this is often a good way of starting people on a beer love affair. This is exactly opposed to simply eating and drinking, rather it's a different appreciation.

And come one, some food and beer matches really are worth shouting about! :D

Andrew -

I think there is definitely a 'poncification' of beer in an attempt to make it the new wine and that's worth resisting in my book. On the other hand some things do taste better with different beers - very few things taste bad with beer :-)

And that, by the way Mark, includes lager and chocolate pudding. A Carlsberg 47 tastes fantastic with desserts - as do many strong Vienna style/Märzen lagers.

Pivní Filosof -

I don't see it as a bad thing. There are way too many people out there that beer don't see beer as a drink, but as a brand and a funny ad. Using a word that's used with wine is a way to open their eyes a bit so they will start seeing beer also as a drink.

Of course, it'd be nicer if those articles spoke more of food that people usually prepare at home, for example, instead of only mentioning upmarket stuff.

izdelava strani -

There's nothing like a good ale and a sausage. Andrew, ice cream tastes bad with beer, done that and wouldn't do it again.

Ron Pattinson -

"Ultimately it probably comes down to a desire to treat beer like wine."

Why the f*ck should we want to treat beer like wine? I quite like treating beer like, well, beer.

Do we really want to end up a bunch of pretentious, posing twats?

Pivní Filosof -

My take on this, if anyone cares to read it.

Alan -

Oh dear. I don't think I have woken up to ten comments before. Let me get a coffee.

Alan -

First, thank you for your thoughts. Very interesting stuff. And Mark, the monkey is in the image up there for a reason. I have another image of Rodin Thinker but I never quite seem to find the post for which it would be right.

Second, in large part this really is a problem with the word. "Pairing" means monogamy to me. Filling Noah's ark with one food and one beer that magically go together. That means excluding out other ideas. When I started blogging back in 2003 I wrote a post about the word "usability" compared to useful. "pairing" strikes me as being like usability where "useful" is eating and drinking.

Third, because it is explored in the contest of someone else telling you what is the pair you really need to know about, it is a distraction from the drinking primacy in the whole beer equation. I come back to the idea of the theatre of the mouth - each drinker governs. "Pairing" requires someone telling you this is better than that. Otherwise it is just you eating and drinking. I like the egalitarianism of eating and drinking.

Fourth, I do think that there are lagers that go with chocolate pudding - maybe Aventius or a dubbel. If I put a bit of thyme in there and the pudding is on the bitter chocolate side it could happen. I want to inject roasts with DIPA, pour cream in my imperial stouts and have ice cold adjunct lager on a cold day if the mood strikes me. I think of that as successful eating and drinking as I consider my eating and drinking history to have been a great success to date.

But mainly it is about the word.

Alan -

Oh, and I think associating good beer with wine appreciation habits is a curse. There ought to be craft beer ad campaigns about selling six packs in grocery stores but ditch the celebrity brewers, the pairing sessions and the over-priced packaging to pump up snob appeal. It's not the attack on reasonable principles of socialism that hurts. It's my pocket book that hurts.

I think the coffee is settling in now.

Pete Brown -

Hmm... mixed views on this one. On the one hand, I too loathe any suggestion that 'beer is the new wine', or any attempt to put beer on the same pedestal as wine. It's beer! It's different!

On the other, I get even more pissed off - by a factor of about 100 - by the majority of people who think that wine is the only drink to have with food - people who will happily drink beer until you sit down to dinner and then switch to wine because that's what you're 'supposed' to do.

As the proportion of drinking occasions that are with food both in and out of home increases, I think it's a legitimate - even vital - part of the job of promoting/evangelising beer to wax lyrical about how well it goes with food.

Some beers go better with some dishes than others do - in terms of not just being nice separately, but working well together to produce a flavour experience that's greater than the sum of the parts. What you call this pursuit is a moot point. But if you (not you, Alan, just "you" generally) think I'm being too poncey for even suggesting we practice it, sue me.

Either way - the bottom line for me is this: I often cook dinners for friends where I bring out a particular beer for each course and suggest to them that this beer might go really well with their food. I've found this to be the most effective way I can find for getting people to reappraise beer. And at the end of the evening, everyone has had a good time, and they continue to talk about it - to each other ands to other people - for months afterwards.

Specifically to your third point in response Alan, I agree with you in the context of this kind of thing happening in the beer geek world. But the reason someone has to suggest (NOT dictate) matches is that if they don't, the vast majority of people - even the vast majority of beer fans - will never give it a go. I like to suggest matches, because when it works the delighted reaction from a novice is one of life's great joys to behold. But I always say there's no right or wrong, every palate is different, here's what I think goes but you may disagree.

If it's good fun to play around and experiment with putting different beers together with different foods, what's wrong with that? I usually call it 'matching'. But if it's the terminology that's the problem, I'll happily call it whatever doesn't upset people.

Alan -

I agree with all that - except I think it is a distraction to the more efficient way of getting beer into the hands of the most likely portion of the population who have yet to try good beer. Most do not like formal-ish dining. Most do like sitting around after sports, for an afternoon in the back yard, that sort of thing.I feel most people do much more sitting around than formal-ish dining. I like gueuze with potato chips. I am more likely to get a gueuze and potato chips into the hands of pals than ever to get them to sit down to a meal with courses.

Peter LaFrance -

First, pairing wine and food has been a national pastime in many nations of Europe. Second, “Pairing” beer and food, when I first heard it in the late 1970’s, was used by folks who had discovered the first “micro” beer and the surge of imported beers that arrived in urban retailers back then. It was an attempt to interact with the friends of the vine, to let them know beer-folk took beer as “seriously” as they took wine. In short, it was an attempt to present beer as a table beverage challenge to wine, with both cuisine grand mere and haut cuisine.

P of K -

It is a largely redundant issue. If it doesn't go with a beer then why eat it? For the life of me I can't think of anything that doesn't go with some form of beer. I had a good munch of brandy filled chocolates over christmas washed down with a dubbel - yummy - but mostly because of the dubbel.

Let's not forget that beer was and still is food - I don't think wine ever was.

Alan -

And I realized that when I wrote "Aventius or a dubbel" I meant or a "dunkle." Shoddy on my part. I have to still say I'm not sure if Aventinus as a wheat doppelbock is actually a lager but that is because I don't care that much at the end of the day.

markdredge -

Interesting comments forming. To my comment earlier, where I say lager and chocolate pudding, I do mean light lager, 4% stuff - I should've been more clear.

Beer shouldn't become the new wine because it isn't and never will be wine. To treat it like a wine may seem wrong to some but to others it's the only way to 'understand' it. When Garrett Oliver wrote his book I'm guessing that wine's influence was in his thoughts, likewise Calagione's beer/wine book is the similar. To associate it with the same process of choosing flavour matches is to do something familiar with a twist (in this case, beer). To 'pair' it is to suggest that it can be more than just a drink, if you want it to be more than just a drink. Many people don't. Personally, I like to find good pairings and tell people about them. It's no different to me opening a beer and telling others about that.

If you read back through all of the posts i've written about beer and food there is no exclusivity to the food. I have never paired anything with haute cuisine and never go beyond average, simple home cooking. To go with that, I match the dishes with beers which can easily be found, where possible. The choices are my personal opinion of what works and what doesn't. You and I may both choose something different to drink with our chocolate pudding but it doesn't make either right or wrong - it's the suggestion that counts.

Alan -

We are really not that far apart. I like beer and food and rely on my own wits for most of the food I like the most. But I don't like "pairing" that much as you do - as I like laying out a range of beer and thinking about all the combinations. I want people to make up their own minds and give them the tools of convivial diversity to allow them to catch up with my own explorations as opposed to them taking my opinion of anything.

One thing I was thinking of wine and beer equivalents when used as an ingredient. I actually do this far more often than try and link beer as "beverage to go with a plate of dish X." For example, I use Belgian browns and oloroso sherry as interchangeable - fungibles almost... but I only say that so that I can use the word fungibles.

I do think, however, that there is a PBR chocolate pudding out there waiting to be had.

Danner Kline -

Considering how often one goes into a fine restaurant and is handed a wine list while having to ask "what beers do you have?" and how many menus & servers will recommend wines that go with your food without ever mentioning beer -- i think we need an awfully determined beer & food pairing movement to make up some lost ground here. Beer is still a long way from getting the respect it deserves in this country, and the focus on "pairings" is part of pushing things in the right direction.

It's not about getting beer to be viewed and treated exactly like wine. It's not about raising beer snobbery to the level of wine snobbery. Beer is more popular and is seen as more approachable than wine, and that's a good thing.

But outside of beer geek circles, beer is most commonly seen as mindless and flavorless, good only for a buzz. It deserves better than that.

There's something of a fine line to be walked here. But i'm certain "beer pairings" are a good thing.

markdredge -

If I could get PBR then I'd give it a go :)

I completely understand where you are coming from. Ideally I'd sit around a table, serve some nice food and open some bottles and let my friends discover things for themselves. It's organic, fun, playful and informative. But it is a very rare luxury.

I hope anything I write about food and beer can act as a suggestion of what can possibly to work. What I love is when someone comes back and says 'you gotta try this pairing out' because that makes me think as well. When it comes to pairing I make some food and think about what I'd like to drink with it - which I guess is the same for you - if it's good then I'll tell others. If it's no good then I won't.

And just to warn you... I'm about to post a food and beer pairing post again! Eeek! ;)

Jeff Alworth -

Second, in large part this really is a problem with the word. "Pairing" means monogamy to me.

Alan, I think if you're having a language problem, then we have to turn to the language. "Pair," from the latin paria which has the sense of equal or equal things. You could just drink beer with your food, but would they be going well together? The sense of the word pairing is to suggest that the beer and the food are equals. We "pair" a nice porter with Oregon mussels because the two make the meal so much more satisfying. As equals in the equation, they are doing more than sitting on the table in front of us.

I dismiss suggestions of a me-tooism with wine. You can pair lots of things--coffee and pie, for instance, form a transcendent combo. Wine didn't invent pairing and it can hardly claim use of the word.

Linguisticially, "pair" adds meaning to the sentence. Let's not dispense with that.

Alan -

No, I couldn't agree less. "Pair" is meaninglessness as used in this way. We cannot flatter ourselves that it has added something. We must have disciple. Your own example shows the problem with the word in this use - and that may well be distracting people who think they are to receive benefit when offered a pairing. One may have a pair of shoes or a pair of candlesticks. Even in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock we read:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

Unlike those things, beer and food are not two of a kind so they are not a pair. The better word for that idea might be "partner" or "mate" with all the implied tension as they are not equals but compliments. Maybe even "collaborator" or "accomplice" while we are at it. But that might mean they could also be a "fink" or a "patsy" if the tripel and the sliver of scallop on a bed of three peas combo is unfortunate.

dave -

I read Mark's post and did not find any "this beer only goes with this food" (monogamous) sentiments. He laid down some recommendations that tend to work well for most people. A little guidance on such things is much appreciated in my book. Yes, beer and food go well together, but on my reading I found he was trying to point out that certain beer styles can elevate certain food flavors. He didn't focus on "swanky" foods, which you have always harped about. Not everyone is so adventurous to try a gueuze with potato chips (but now that you have mentioned it, I might give it a shot) and they need a little prodding or nudge to give such a thing a shot, which is what you and Mark have provided.

Then after the whole post of "I've been drinking good beer since...", I would never "pair", doesn't everyone realize this (which had a tinge of aloof feeling to it, but I got over it)... you state in the comments "But mainly it is about the word." So lets throw out some words people can use when trying to elevate food flavors with beer. I'll start: combinations (though that might be a bit too many syllables for "marketers")

Fortunately I hit preview before posting... so you do not think beer, wine, drink benefits the taste of food (i.e. elevates certain flavors) when offered together? (I get this from "who think they are to receive benefit when offered a pairing")

Alan -

"...harped about..."!!! "...aloof..."??? Yikes. I never harp. I go one and on. Less shrill. More opportunity for the reader to go somewhere else.

Note the header. I am asking a question. I don't really know what it is that makes me go mental over this. I honestly don't. I don't suggest I am either clever or authoritative in this... if one can be clever or authoritative in asking a question about one's own inability. I like combinations but like combos better as in:

"I want the mussel combo #7 with extra fries as long as I can get the dubbel and not the tripel.

This is only about me. I want to sprinkle Rodenbach Grand Cru on French fries. I don't want to spend 75 bucks on a dinner that comes with five four ounce servings of beer. Is that so wrong?

dave -

"Go on and on" is better then what I said.

I don't see what you write is wrong, because I think I understand what you are alluding too. If beer becomes this "pairing thing" (much like wine) and has "super stars" (not sure if wine has super stars, not a wine person), etc... it will move from the realm of approachable to everyone (or at least those willing to venture from macros) to enjoyable by the few. I can understand that sentiment.

Alan -

You got it. Beer is a value product that is accessible, tasty, moderate in alcohol for the most part, healthy and does go amazingly well with a lot of food - except breakfast cereal. Anything that smacks of "exclusive" just excludes another future good beer fan.

Ron Pattinson -

"To treat it like a wine may seem wrong to some but to others it's the only way to 'understand' it."

No. No. No. No. No.

Beer needs to say adieu to its cultural cringe.To stop defining itself in relation to wine.

P of K -

How is it that we poo-poo the notion of "pairing" while at the same time putting forth all these many yummy combinations of food and beer.

Having read the comments here I am tending to agree with dave in that with a bit of thought one can match certain beers with certain foods to elevate the flavours of each. Perhaps pairing is a word "taken" by the wine set and perhaps it is associated with a certain amount of unwanted pretense - so what to call it then?

Alan -

Trouble maker.

But I hear you. One point of mine way up there is that there is nothing new to any of this and the word misleads as to that. Beer and food have obviously been consumed together forever. It even may be that some foods and beers may only be understood in the context of each other - such as rauchbier and smoked meats.

If there is pretense it is based on both forgetting the history and failing to point out how wonderfully good beer goes along without food, too.

P of K -

And breaking it down into its first principles even further - drinking beer makes one hungry and eating food makes one thirsty. Voila! They go together not by desire or sentient design but by the evolutionary manifestation of the human palate. We were born to pair!

P of K -

And that's why you put that photo at the top of the post right? Very apropos.

zythophile -

Beer needs to say adieu to its cultural cringe.To stop defining itself in relation to wine.

Absolutely correct, Ron.

In fact, beers go with far more foods than any and all wines. To that degree, beer is the superior drink. For me, in fact, probably because I'm not that much of a fan of wine, I've never been knocked out by wine-and-food pairings, and I've been to wine-focused dinners from Australia to California. I admit I'm fond of a Zinfandel with roast beef, but I love a hoppy pale ale with roast beef as well: given the chance I'll drink both. However, sometimes I've had a beer with a particular food, say Fuller's Vintage Ale with aged Gouda, and thought: "Wow, that really improves both sides of the deal."

Matt -

Jeez - first it's that beer goes with any/all foods, then it's that beer doesn't need to go with food, then it's an exception to the implications of the word "pairing," then it's that a meal with pairings will probably cost $75... linguistic quibbles, then ontological quibbles, populist quibbles, all to deprecate a word with associations with wine culture... Alan, you're a well-cultured asthete and there's nothing wrong with that. You can still appreciate beer and all that goes with it without becoming an elitist. There's room for everybody.

Alan -

Matt: I agree. I am not against those who wish to engage in "pairing" though I think it is by definition an exclusionary model structurally speaking and therefore a bad focus for good beer and even for good food and good beer. I buffet of beer, I say, and let the drinkers choose their own combos. But one thing - these are not quibbles. This is an mass examination of a complex idea that has not devolved into finger pointing. You should be proud of the company you keep. I am.

PoK: Trouble maker. We were born to eat and drink and I do believe we were even born to drink alcohol as I seem to recall a med student I used to drink with telling me there were specific enzymes provided at birth that were only used to break down alcohol. But not to pair. God's handiwork never extended to pairing. Except in the case of Noah and that goes back to shoes, candlesticks and T.S. Elliot's claws.

Jeff Alworth -

Alan, when making tough decisions like what color to paint the living room, we assign a level of investment in the thing on a ten-point scale. If we see that one of us is very committed to a thing, we stand aside. In this regard, I stand aside to your very clearly anxious sense of the use of the word pair. It's a ten on your investment scale, and about a two on mine.

Nevertheless, I do have to point out that your example of a "pair of claws" refers to pair as a noun. The sense your post is concerned with is the verb, pairing food and beer. And, while the sense of identical copies can also be used, the other sense--the one that offends you--is perfectly legitimate, too. Webster offers "paired off for the next dance" as an example of this use, "to become associated with another." The pairing of food and beverage indicates this association.

Jeff Alworth -

Sorry, that little anecdote should have included my wife:

"Alan, when making tough decisions like what color to paint the living room, my wife and I assign a level of investment in the thing on a ten-point scale."

Alan -

Good catch of the spousal participation.

Nothing offends me, Jeff. I simply couldn't agree less. Now I disagree less than that less. You have lessened my lessness. Yet, it is still a precious and excluding use of the word and unsatisfactory in its degree of false implication of monogamy.

I like the suggested "combo" or "making connections" idea. Beer is a bigamist even if, for one night, it looks like monogamist. We have learned much from the mating pattern of the chickadee.

Alan -

Sadly, I made my best comment on this idea on someone else's blog:

"I am suggesting that using that as a method of appreciating good beer is about as necessary as ensuring we all wear scuba suits as we do."

Jeff Alworth -

"You have lessened my lessness." This is a philosophical turn I hadn't anticipated. The negation of nothing, the subtraction of something from nothing--this is heady stuff.

On the other hand, your lessness has earned you, as of this ramble, 41 comments, which ain't, err, nothing.

Alan -

We have all grown through this discourse, Jeff. On a serious note, I do think this is one of the real benefits of blogging as opposed to forums is that there is a personal aspect to this in that I should take your ideas seriously if I invite you to comment. On the other hand, it also reminds me to remember to link to my stupid scuba gear joke.

Jeff Alworth -

Indeed. Given the pay, bloggers must find value in less tangible benefits.

Alan -

Ah... given the pay... the immortal issue. I will say it again: for all the money in beer there sure ain't a lot of money in beer.