Belgium is under lockdown until May 03 (as far as we know at the moment). Easter holidays, for many of us, meant staying indoors. Navigating these unprecedented times has brought our attention back to basics: relationships, the importance of human connection and…food.
We’re lucky enough to have our supply of fresh food (and beer) available close by or at the click of a button. So we thought, why not dust up the old food pairing handbook and give you a refresher on the basics of pairing beer and food. After all, our senses are all about transferring emotion, and taste can facilitate pretty poetic experiences if you ask us.
The most important rule: TAKE IT SLOW!
These times are a chance to start practicing doing one thing at a time, and that’s ideal for expanding your palate.
Take a bite.
Close your eyes.
What are your perceiving?
Now take a sip.
Much like with music, tastes go together to create harmonies. Can you taste them?
Sweet. Salty. Sour. Bitter. Umami. The 5 basic tastes.
Consciously or not, you’re already pairing the beer you drink with the food you eat: drinking a dark beer with your rich winter dish, a cold light Pilsener with a spring salad…
Food and beer naturally go together, and it’s hard to go wrong in pairings. What we’re going for though is discovery through taste, and, why not, some sparks of creativity 😉
Now, let’s cover a few basics: intensity, harmony and contrast.
The first and easiest guideline: match intensity.
Light food with lighter beers. Intense food with more intense beers.
A rich and greasy dish will completely overpower a simple blond beer. Look instead for something with the same level of intensity, probably higher in alcohol, with more complexity and layers of flavour.
The opposite is true as well: don’t drink an Imperial Stout with a softly spiced chicken or fish, unless you don’t want to taste the food anymore 😉
Harmony.The second guideline is all about finding balance. The total becomes more than the sum of its parts. After matching intensity, the next step is to try and find common flavours or aromas in both the beer & food. Good balance means neither the beer nor the food overpower one another, creating complementary flavours that enrich the tasting experience.
Do you perceive notes of caramel in your roasted or fried meat or vegetables? Find a beer that has those touches of caramel as well, the beer and food will complement each other and the other elements in both dishes conspire to create layers of complexity in the pairing.
Contrast.This is where the fun begins! Once you’ve nailed intensity and harmony, contrast can add a layer of complexity but watch out… not everything works! Just like sound titillates your ear drums, you can get creative and surprise your palette as you start playing with the five basic tastes and other elements like carbonation, smoke, roastiness & tannins. For example:
- Sweet, bitter & acid COUNTER & CALM most flavors (also themselves)
- Bitter & Tannins INCREASE spiciness
- Umami COMPLEMENTS fat, salt & sweet
- Salt INCREASES sweetness
- Sour beer increases salivation so is perfect as aperitif.
- Carbonation & acidity CLEANSE the palate.
Once you master all of these, there is of course much more. Psychologist Charles Spence’s experiment on the “sonic chip” found that eaters believe louder chips to be better in taste. Also, it turns out that noisy planes make us crave umami, with noise making the taste more intense. So once you have your palette down, you can move on to orchestrating a sensory experience in your living room, with music and colors playing their part in your experience 😉
In the meantime, here are some simple ideas of food pairings with our all stars: