A Good Beer Blog


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."


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Jeff Alworth -

I agree with you on specificity. Those are some indistinct adjectives. I disagree on the issue of matching flavors.

Leave aside the beer and food formulation and instead think of it as flavor and flavor. Sometimes things don't work, sometimes they are unexceptional, and sometimes they're alchemical genius. A few years back, a Seattle chocolateer put smoked salt on her milk chocolate caramels. They now sell at $7 for three small squares. Insanely good. I've had the ones where the salt isn't smoked and ones with dark chocolate and they're merely fine.

I harbor a belief that there's some philosophy that could guide diners to select beers wisely--though it certainly hasn't been designed yet. The constituents of flavor--effervescence, strength, dryness, sweetness or tartness, roastiness, etc--are somehow the key. So far, what I have encountered is pairing by style, which seems well nigh useless.

Pivní Filosof -

I don't think beverage and food pairing is a science, although there is what I'd call a "generally accepted wisdom" in it, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to taste. If you want to drink a BA Imperial Stout with your tempura shrimps, it's your thing.

That said, what bothers me about that fragment is that the chef never explains why, according to him, Ceilidh beer pairs so well with poppadoms and tomato chutney. "Fresh and clean" si something that can describe any German or Czech Pale Lager (or pretty much any Pale Lager, actually).

The problem often is (and it might be the case also here) that when chefs talk about beer, they are actually talking about a brand they endorse and what they utter comes from a script.

Ben Edmunds -

If your point is that a Michelin-starred chef also ought to be a more articulate interviewee, then, sure.

Yet I'll give the chef the benefit of the doubt and assume these are likely quite good pairings. Talented chefs (and wine/beer/cocktail stewards) successfully design great pairings of food and drink that often are developed and experienced organoleptically long before they can be proscribed in accepted "descriptors." It's the erotics of eating.

It seems small minded to criticize a chef for the (in)specificity of his beer vocabulary. As a brewer who works regularly with chefs, it is precisely their outsider perspective--their ignorance and disregard of the ASBC flavor wheel--that makes their contributions to recipe design, understanding the relationship between food and beer, and brewing so welcome.

It seems even more provincial to sit in a great chef's restaurant, eat from his/her menu, and then "suggest he might like to mind his own business" when it comes to pairing the food with beer. Certain beers do actually pair well with certain foods. If you're not looking to adventure into something new when eating and drinking, why not just cook and drink at home?

Critiques like this resonate only to a small echo chamber of beer boosters, who vilify mainstream media's coverage of beer as not being refined enough. I'll count myself in the other 99% of consumers (and producers) who seek pleasure in beer/food pairings by way of others' interest and experience and who get excited by these (vaguely described) pairings.

Bailey -

We need a chef who is genuinely interested in beer rather than paying lip-service. On UK TV, a few chefs have started to mention beer, but usually with a barely-concealed curl of the lip and a disclaimer that wine is still, really, in the end, better with food, parroting what they learned while serving their apprenticeships. Beer is just not on the curriculum yet.

Tim Anderson, who won Master Chef in the UK a couple of years back, is a former bar manager and convincing beer geek -- he might be the first. More will emerge.

And, as long as it's not used in isolation, I like 'clean' as a descriptor; in my mind, the opposite of 'rough', 'rustic' or 'wild'.

Alan -

Ben, you seem to be infected with that idea that a brewer or a cook defines the eating experience but if you are comfortable with "small minded" and "provincial" you seem to suffer the same problem at the core of my complaint. You don't represent any fictive 99%. You represent those few who seek to create a set of exclusive knowledge around food and beer and then, rather than set the consumer free to explore, make another revenue stream around what you call "others interest and experience."

The trouble with that expensive exclusive approach is, as Jeff rightly points out, that it is a failure. It fails to educate even as wallets lighten. It deters through requiring the acceptance of the false notion that beer understanding beer (and food for that matter) is difficult. Push the point and soon the word "artist" is trotted out... or maybe ASBC flavour wheel!

No, Jeff is exactly right when he says "I harbor a belief that there's some philosophy that could guide diners to select beers wisely--though it certainly hasn't been designed yet." Why? I major part because of attitudes like Ben's, I'd suggest. If something as simple and normal as what tastes good needs to be organoleptically developed and experienced we are all (and have all) lost.

This is a perfect topic for a wiki of beers and cross referencing meal suggestions. With a side table of warning signs to watch for to let you know when the expensive of "adventure" is at hand. What places such a democratic movement at risk most often? Oligarchs with vested interests.

Alan -

Conversely, consider this alternate approach: "...the waiter asks if I would like a glass of draught Rodenbach because it comes from his home town. ‘It would make me very happy if you had one.’ " Normal. Friendly. Easy.

Gary Gillman -

Alan, I once read, in a book on regional European food, that in Italy, the people in the country would drink with their food whatever wine was traditional in the area, whatever they had basically. If they made white (or the white came out good), they drank that, whether they ate steak, veal or fish. If they made red, they drank that, whether they ate sausage and pasta, seafood or beef.

This made an impression on me and caused to me think after that most combinations of wine-and-food or beer-and-food, are to some extent arbitrary. Does this mean some drinks don't go better with foods than others? No, but the differences are probably not great or at least for me. Thus, I've never really put much mind to what goes with what, more power to those who do but it's just not an area I find fruitful for me.

But I do think it's good that restaurants put some focus on this because it promotes the cause of good beer, it makes people think about it.


Alan -

I am fine with that to a degree. Mainly to the degree the price gets jacked up.

Ethan -

"It deters through requiring the acceptance of the false notion that beer understanding beer (and food for that matter) is difficult."

I take issue with your notion that this is ubiquitous, though I am sure some people try to get all snobby about it. But what are Garrett Oliver or Randy Mosher saying in their books or chapters? Certainly not anything like "We have esoteric knowledge mere mortals cannot obtain." And they're certainly never saying "You must pair this beer with this food, always; anything else is #fail" Even the overall ethos of the Cicerone program is to be a guide, not an authority beyond scrutiny. Servers should make suggestions--only when asked, perhaps--not dictate selections.

I love guiding people to new flavor experiences and combinations, but I never expect every pairing to work the same for everybody, and I'm always open to the idea that there are alternate pairings that might draw out different epiphanies. It's all about sharing... and sharing is caring!

So, if your thesis is "food and beer pairings: don't be a jackass about it," then I agree. But if it's more "there's no there there," then I have to entirely disagree. That chef you quoted might not be especially articulate, but that's not evidence that the entire endeavor of paring beer and food is fraught or simply empty.

Jeff Alworth -

Alan, I have to congratulate you on getting Ben to comment, something I've never seen before. Even when he blogs at the New School, he doesn't comment. That said, it seems a bit unfair to call him a snob when you introduced the topic of the Michelin-rated chef. He was just commenting on your post about a Michelin-rated chef.

I don't know why a good ratings system hasn't been designed, except that it's hard. There are people who know a great deal about beer and people who know a great deal about food, but almost never are they the same people. It's hard for me to approach the subject because I'm almost disastrously uninformed about food.

Gary Gillman -

We do need to be careful about price, but then too, beer prices seem to wend in the upward direction over time even as beer and food pairings are in their infancy. Pint imports downtown in TO are upwards of $10.00 now with tax and tip and domestic not too far behind. I never thought I'd see the day.

I know there is a school of thought that feels good beer is underpriced - Michael Jackson felt that way - but there is a weight of history and tradition that is very hard to heave off, which holds that beer should not cost an arm and a leg.


Alan -

Did I call him a snob? I thought I suggested he was rude and wrong. No congrats needed either as I am quite sure he is the same as the rest of us.

Alan -

Ethan, my only thesis really was he was a poor representative of an idea and his take on the idea was overly limited and implicitly overly costly. Beer and good food are not that complex. They can be made overly costly and needlessly expensive but there are always folk who know how to play that.

Ethan -

"They can be made overly costly and needlessly expensive but there are always folk who know how to play that."

Well, yes: Business owners are always interested in their bottom lines!