BRECKENRIDGE — Justin Wright, certified Cicerone and menu consultant, recently teamed up with chef and homebrewer Justin Kruger for a DIY Beer Pairing Dinners seminar at the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival in Breckenridge.
Together, they broke down an example of a four-course dinner with beer pairings, focusing on simplicity.
First, decide what beers you want to showcase, Kruger said.
“Taste those beers, and then talk about the flavor profiles you get out of those beers, and then create your menu from that,” he said. “It’s easier to create your menu from your beer than the other way around.”
Once you’ve chosen the beers, plot them out in a way that makes sense.
Don’t jump into crazy strong beers right away, Wright said. High levels of alcohol can kill your guests’ appetites and even dull their palate sensations.
Do, however, start with an aperitif. In the beer world, that’s a gose (pronounced goes-uh), a once-defunct salty-sour German beer style that has had a recent resurgence. Light, crisp and generally low in alcohol, examples include Dogfish Head SeaQuench, Avery Brewing Company’s El Gose or Hibiscus Gose from Boulevard Brewing Coompany.
“There’s a little bit of lemon peel, lime, a touch of salt,” Wright said. Those ingredients cause you to salivate, which opens up your palate to experience all of the flavors to come. “I like to have a can and sip it between courses, too.”
Cheese is a tempting option for a first course, as the effervescence of the beer cuts through the fattiness of the cheese and creates pleasing, complimentary palate sensations. Wright paired a Timnath First Keller Kolsch with a nutty, fudgy Swiss Challerhocker, but he recommended that you …
DON’T do cheese at home by yourself. The range of flavors for cheeses is immense, and finding the perfect cheese to compliment your chosen beer can be daunting.
“Unless you are super familiar with the specific pairing you want to do, don’t do cheese,” Wright said. “Stick with fruits and vegetables, and pair with a simple pale ale or pale lager.”
For a second course, Kruger suggested an easy Waldorf salad, which Wright paired with Blackberry Farm’s Classic Saison. Other options might include Funkwerks’ flagship Saison or Tropic King imperial saison or Ommegang Hennepin farmhouse saison.
“To me, a saison and hefeweizen are the two simplest beers to pair with any non-chocolate dish,” Wright said. “It’s going to be a little bit of lemon peel, white pepper character, and that goes amazing with the Waldorf salad. The carbonation of the saison will really cut the fat.”
Kruger reduces apple juice to an almost caramel-like consistency before whisking in mayonnaise, salt and fresh-ground pepper and tossing the dressing with toasted walnuts, green apples, celery, shaved celery root and dried cranberries to create soft, chewy and crunchy textures.
Dice the fruits and vegetables ahead of time, Kruger suggested, tossing the apples in lemon juice and throwing the celery in water to prevent browning and then draining and throwing it all together with the dressing just before serving.
“One of the major principles of food and beer pairing is comparing and contrasting flavors,” Wright said. “If you’re not super awesome in the kitchen, these are really simple.”
For a main course, Wright and Kruger chose short ribs marinated and braised in Left Hand Brewing Company’s Fade to Black foreign stout, paired with the same beer. Kruger shared recipes for either a gravy or stick glaze for the meat and recommended serving the dish over mashed potatoes.
Wright rattled off a handful of other general rules for your pairings:
Don’t try to use barrel-aged beers, as you don’t know what the barrel is going to do to the flavors of your food. Instead, stick to clean, classic styles.
Also don’t pair an IPA with a spicy dish, particularly New England IPAs, which Wright said are stealthily bitter. IPA bitterness is a mouth irritant, and spicy, capsaicin-based foods are also a mouth irritant. Put them together, and you create a full-on inferno.
A Belgian double or triple makes a much better pairing for spicy dishes, and IPAs are a good match for something sweet, like barbecue or northern curry. A bitter IPA also will wreck havoc on salmon, so avoid that pairing, as well.
“Salty and sour; bitter and sweet,” Kruger said. “It may seem unbalanced, but if you take that bite and take that drink, you’re creating balance in your mouth.”
Kruger added that a “grossly fat” rib eye, butter-basted to medium rare with a caramelized outside, goes great with a dark sour.
“A beer like (New Belgium’s) La Folie will cut through that fat and balance it,” he said. “Sours act more like wine for me than beer does. They have those nuances that wine does.”
Do not choose a fruited beer for dessert, Wright said, unless it’s a classic kriek lambic or framboise.
“It brings out the bitterness in it, and it really bites your tongue,” he said. “If you want to do a little more tropical IPA, or even a West Coast IPA and a carrot cake, that’s a dynamite pairing, but that’s a simple beer—Sierra Nevada Pale (Ale) with carrot cake.”
Chocolate cake loves an English brown with a little bit of residual sugar, and low pH fruited sours go great with fatty desserts, Wright said.
“It acts like the fruit compote that you would put on that dessert,” Wright said.
Check out the recipies for chef Justin Kruger’s Old Waldorf salad dressing and braised short ribs:
Old Waldorf dressing
1 cup apple juice
2 egg yolks
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 and 1/4 cups vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place apple juice into small pot, and reduce to 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool.
Once cool, place the reduced apple juice, egg yolks, lemon juice, vinegar and cayenne in a food processor or medium bowl.
In a food processor: Slowly add the oil in a small stream to allow the emulsification to form.
In a bowl: While whisking with one hand, slowly add the oil a few drops at a time until the emulsification is stable, and then you can increase the amount of oil until you are finished.
Season with salt and pepper and toss with toasted walnuts, diced green apples and celery, shaved celery root and dried cranberries.
Chef’s tip: If you do not feel comfortable making an emulsion, you can skip the egg yolks and oil and fold the other ingredients into store-bought mayo.
1 pound boneless short ribs
3 cans Left Hand Brewing Coompany Fade to Black foreign stout
2 sprigs thyme
1 whole bay leaf
1/2 cup plus 2 cloves garlic, diced
2 carrots, chopped in 1/4-inch pieces
1 leek, chopped in 1/4-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped in 1/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups beef stock
Marinate the ribs overnight in 2 cans beer, thyme, bay leaf and 2 cloves diced garlic, covered in a pot. Remove the ribs from the marinade, and reduce the marinade to 1/2 cup over medium heat. Dry the ribs in a towel, and then season them with salt and pepper.
Sear them in a large roasting pan on medium-high heat, being very careful not to burn the ribs or scorch the pan. When brown on both sides, remove the ribs. Cook them in batches to avoid overcrowding in the pan, usually two to three batches total.
Once all of the ribs are seared, add the carrots, leek, onion and 1/2 cup garlic to the pan with the olive oil. Brown the vegetables until dark golden brown over medium heat; this should take 10 minutes.
Add the other two cans of Fade to Black to the pan, and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to get the great flavor that was stuck on. Once the beer is simmering, add the reduced marinade and beef stock, and bring to a simmer.
Add the short ribs to the liquid, cover with a lid and place into a 300-degree oven for four to six hours. You can also put this mixture into a crockpot and cook on low for the same amount of time.
Once the short ribs are tender, remove from the liquid and allow to cool on a plate to collect all the juices that release. At this point you have two options for the sauce: 1) Puree the whole pot and make an excellent gravy, or 2) remove the vegetables by straining in a colander and reduce the braising liquid by half to create a sticky glaze.