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Beer vs. Wine (Round 2)

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There has been an interesting conversation going on on a couple different boards and I thought I'd try give this discussion its own space.

Is beer as suitable to be paired with food as wine has been traditionally paired with food?

If so, is beer more suitable for some foods than wine and is wine more suitable for some foods than beer?

(Where does saké -- technically closer to beer than wine -- fit into this equation as well??)

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  1. 1 - Yes
    2 - Not necessarily
    3 - Depends on the dish

    1 Reply
    1. re: Josh

      I almost got in a fist fight with my older brother about this.

      The only things beer has on wine is:

      1.) beer's ability to incorporate just about anything without being a cardinal sin (think raisons, white fig, sage, whiskey barrels versus the pitiful apple cranberry wine, etc.) and

      2.) the fact that "bitterness" is not something you'll find in wines.

      That being said, there's not a single dish that some beer cannot handle easily. That's not always the case with wine (artichokes? where's my sommelier?)

    2. Yes, beer is as suitable to pair with foods as is wine.

      Yes, beer fits more with some foods than with others, and wine fits better with some foods than with others, and some beers work great with some foods, while other beers belong nowhere near the same foods, and the same goes with wines. Isn't getting a good match between food and beverage the whole idea of pairing.

      Which foods go better with what? That's all a matter of opinion.

      As examples:

      I would never consider drinking wine along with chili. The right beverage for me is beer. But some beers, like Guiness don't work for me. An amber beer with a fair amount of hops fits for me.

      A good steak can fit with either beer or wine, depending on my mood, and accompanying dishes, etc. I might enjoy any number of beers or red wines with a steak.

      A plate of German sausages and food would not normally fit well with an English bitter, but a Kostritzer Dark Lager works well.

      A Swiss fondue for me really does not work with beer, it calls for a wine.

      Generally, pairing a type of cuisine with beverages that have the same origins works for me. But, in some circumstances things can be mixed.

      I don't know enough about sake to opine in that regard.

      In the end, eat and drink what you like.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Captain

        Vinho verde would be a brilliant pairing with chili.

        Swiss fondue would be great with gueuze.

        1. re: Josh

          Not for me, but if you enjoy those pairings, then ENJOY!

          1. re: Captain

            Forgive my skepticism, but I doubt you've tried either one of those pairings.

            1. re: Josh

              I haven't, and I admit that I am unlikely to do so. Perhaps I am close-minded, but I've had both vinho verde and gueuze. Neither tastes anything like what I want to drink with the respective dishes. If you do, that's great. I'm not fighting you on it. It's just not for me.

              Gueuze could work for me with some cheeses, but if someone made me pick a beer to have with fondue, I'd probably go for something like a doppelbock, maybe Aventinus. If I had to have wine with chili, it would definitely be a red, a big fruity Malbec.

              If you want to find the perfect wine to serve with chili, or think you have done so, awesome.

              1. re: Captain

                Vinho verde works very well with anything that is fatty and/or spicy. The light effervescence, low alcohol, and high acidity would make it a great match for chili - much more so than a red wine, IMO. I haven't actually tried it, but I think it'd be an inspired pairing.

                This is the same reason I'd pair gueuze with fondue - light, effervescent, low alcohol, and bracing acidity to cut through the richness of the cheese. Again, not one I've tried, but I think it'd be very good.

                1. re: Josh

                  I guess your respective pairings have different objectives. The doppelbock is more about matching rich, nutty flavors, for a cohesive pairing. The gueuze is more of a contrast, cleaning the palate and hopefully making the next bite taste as good as the first.

                  I've wanted to try gueuze with my fondue before, but the problem is that I've already opened the wine I used in the fondue, and might as well drink it. I suppose I could solve that by making the fondue with gueuze, but then I've changed the game.

                  1. re: nfo

                    Invite more people to share the fondue, and either give them the wine, or drink the wine before the fondue and have the gueuze with it after.

                    1. re: nfo

                      "The doppelbock is more about matching rich, nutty flavors, for a cohesive pairing. The gueuze is more of a contrast, cleaning the palate and hopefully making the next bite taste as good as the first"

                      Exactly! I think that it comes down to personal preference. I prefer the later and have difficulty finding many pairings in the beer world that satisfy it. Again for me the higher the malt and richness of the beer (or the oak and or residual sugar of wine) the more it starts to "compete for minutes" (to use a sports analogy) with the meal. Some like that. I don't.

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        I think this is right, and it also seems to fit how I eat and drink. I tend to eat when food is in front of me and rarely lift the glass in front of me, until I am done with the food. My habits, good or bad (I realize that many may criticize), don't really create a place for cleaning out my palate. So, for me, it's all about a cohesive pairing.

                    2. re: Josh

                      I was thinking about making fondue the other day so I was looking at a bunch of recipes and pretty much all call for Kirsch, a sour cherry aperitif. Which leads me to think hat gueuze could pair really well with fondue and you could maybe even make it with the gueuze instead of kirsch.

                      1. re: DougOLis

                        Yum, sign me up. Get Blair to do it at Hammy's.

          2. So, to add my general agreement with those of the others, we have our unscientific survey of four posters saying that beer can be paired and it depends on the dish and one's palate as to which is "more suitable."

            I wonder if you would get as generous a reply if you posted your question on the wine board...

            Several years ago I had an omakase (chef's choice) tasting dinner at Morimoto in Philadelphia. He offered a "beverage pairing" that included wine, beer, and sake throughout the courses; selecting the particular drink as he would another ingredient on the dish: to create a particular taste experience. And to good effect.

            1. I’ve had some good experiences pairing beer and food. The only difference that I see with beer is that it takes up more room on the palate than wine generally. And often I find that it can act almost like an equal player on the palate with the meal, where many wines act almost as a condiment would. So it depends on what you prefer I guess.

              10 Replies
              1. re: Chinon00

                I agree in a lot of instances, especially with modern craft brewers' tendency towards excessive hopping. That's why I generally prefer witbiers, nut browns, and gueuze for food purposes. They are less obtrusive, IMO.

                1. re: Josh

                  there are quite a few foods that saisons pair nicely with too. IMO

                  1. re: DougOLis

                    I've heard that. I have yet to find the pairing that does it for me. Something about the phenolic flavors in most saisons make it tough for food pairing to me.

                    1. re: Josh

                      I think Saisons are extraordinary with Thai food.

                2. re: Chinon00

                  Josh - I mostly agree with staying away from the big hoppy and big alcohol brews. Although, that being said, there some great desserts that would pair well with some bigger, heartier brews and I'm sure if you had some BBQ in front of you, you wouldn't turn down a double IPA... well, at least I wouldn't.

                  That being said, for every one "excessive[ly] hopp[ed]" beer a brewer makes, they'll typically make a handful of sessionable beers. While it was a very general trend to go big with hops, I'm a bit dubious of lumping all "craft" beers under that blanket. Plus, there's been a growth in properly integrating that hoppiness by more carefully choosing the varieties and when during the brewing process they get used. Thus, "hoppiness" isn't just going to be about bitterness.

                  Chinon00 - you've just hit on a common misperception about beer and food. There's beers that are lighter than a Sauv Blanc and as rich and hearty and deep as ports and sherries. A perfect example: with spicy asian food, a hearty white like a gewürtztraminer would be a common choice. I find it too heavy and lacking in refreshment and would instead go for a dry and crisp lager.

                  1. re: mrgrotto

                    I personally consider guenze to be a great food friendly beverage so I'm aware of the diversity. For me if you can keep the malt character down in beer (e.g. German Pils, Gueuze) it can be as food friendly as anything else. But therein lies the rub.

                    1. re: mrgrotto

                      Floral hop character can be nice with certain kinds of foods.

                      Best pairing I've had with spicy Asian food was actually a bottle of Etienne Dupont's Cidre Bouche du Normande. It's an unfiltered, unpasteurized hard cider, with a really funky wild yeast character. It's light, crisp, earthy, and paired amazingly well with some super hot szechuan food.

                      1. re: Josh

                        Josh, do you know where I can find Etienne Dupont in San Diego?

                        1. re: DougOLis

                          Holiday Wine Cellar for sure. Whole Foods has had it sporadically.

                        2. re: Josh

                          Mmmm... Good thinking. There's a spontaneously fermented Basque cider called Isastegi that's got kind of a wild-yeast funk and gueze dryness to it that I'munna try next time. It's mostly still but the traditional super-long pouring method works some bubbles into it.

                          Great suggestion on the cider front.

                    2. >>> Is beer as suitable to be paired with food as wine has been traditionally paired with food? <<<
                      Yes.

                      >>> If so, is beer more suitable for some foods than wine and is wine more suitable for some foods than beer? <<<
                      Yes.

                      >>> (Where does saké -- technically closer to beer than wine -- fit into this equation as well??) <<<
                      It depends upon the specific saké and the specific food.

                      True bottom line: it's ALL about what YOU (the individual with the glass in his/her hand) prefer.

                      Cheers,
                      Jason

                      1. And the beer vs wine fight goes on, as it has since the beginning of recorded history...

                        For me, lately, anytime you would typically have a beer, like with Thai / Indian / Mexican foods, I have a light and fresh white wine, and I find this very good.

                        I am waiting for the return of fresh pilsner beer, after this trend of over-hopping subsides. Then, I will be reaching for beers more often.

                        PBR in a can if it IS the meal.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Budget Palate

                          "I am waiting for the return of fresh pilsner beer, after this trend of over-hopping subsides."

                          The pilsners never went anywhere. True European pilsners are coming over in a greater numbers of brands than ever and selling better, so they're (in theory- one store's or region's stock may be worse than another's) "fresher" than ever- AND they almost universally have a "Best by" date (tho' I prefer to shave 6 months off of those- since the Euro convention is one year shelf life).

                          AND, in the US, there are more "true pilsners" (all malt, hoppy examples) than, probably, since Repeal. In the Northeast, from just one state, we get great pilsners like Victory Prima Pils, Troegs' Sunshine Pils, Sly Fox Pikeland Pils as well as pils from Stoudt, Penn, etc. Can't get fresher than that.

                          Finally, if by "pilsner" you mean the US "adjunct light lager" style (or the even lighter "light beers")- which "evolved" (I'm being kind) out of the pilsner style, they still have something like 90% of the market (from US, Mexico, Canada and other countries), so they shouldn't be difficult to find, either <g>.

                          The "over-hopped" beers may dominant the talk on the forums of the food and beer portion of the 'net, and, increasingly, the general press, but they, and all US craft brews in general, are still a small (still under 4%) segment of the overall beer market.

                          1. re: JessKidden

                            I have had bad luck with recent purchases of European pilsner -- all stale.

                            It was my fault for implying but not making it clear in my post that by "fresh" pilsner I meant "fresh and local" pilsner. There are a lot of local breweries here but, as far as I know, relatively little pilsner is put out, compared with all the other stuff they're making. There are many reasons that I suspect for this but I won't get into that here. There is one that I love, Goldenrod Pilsner, but it's hard to find. I would be happy to stand corrected if an Asheville resident wants to tell me the name of a few local pubs -- and a convenience store -- all with reliable, local, fresh pilsner. What I am dreaming of would be the suds equivalent to the young Cybil Shepherd -- fresh, just a little bit edgy, and very blond.

                            To tie this subdiscussion back to the main one about beer-or-wine with food, I would just mention that the way many of us eat now in America -- with lots of fresh, spicy, and hot flavors -- lends itself well to white wine or light refreshing beer.

                            1. re: Budget Palate

                              There are other light, refreshing styles that are good for food pairing, and in many cases better for food pairing than pilsners.

                              Additionally, pilsner is a specific subset of lager, with both Bavarian and Bohemian styles. There are other light lagers that go very well with food, such as Helles.

                              Other light, refreshing beers that go well with food include Berliner weisse, hefeweizen, American wheat, Belgian singel, Beigian witbier, Belgian gueuze, and French biere de garde.

                              IMO gueuze is the single best beer for pairing with spicy foods, followed closely by Berliner weisse.

                              1. re: Budget Palate

                                "I have had bad luck with recent purchases of European pilsner -- all stale."

                                But that was my point. If you want to buy fresh Euro pils, almost all are dated these days. The 3 I buy most frequently (Pilsner Urquel, Jever and Czechvar) are all clearly dated with a "best by" date- bottle labels, and (since I only buy green-bottled beer by the sealed case) on the case.

                                The brewers do give the beers too much "shelf life"- 1 yr for the Jever and Czechvar, 9 months for P/U (at least according to the former Miller website- I can't find it on the new MillerCoors site), so you'll have to "do the math". I can routinely find cases only a month or two old (and would never buy anything over 6 months). On top of that, now that Czechvar is imported by a division of AB-InBev (Import Brands Alliance) it's often offered with a mail-in rebate. My last case of Czechvar wound up costing me $16 after rebate- can't beat that.

                                As for "fresh and local", since you don't list a state or region on your CH Profile, I didn't know which beers to recommend. I would guess some of those PA pils I listed are available in NC, but you'd have to pay close attention to date codes. I wouldn't buy any of them nearing or past their "best by" dates, save for the canned Pikeland Pils, which holds up quite nicely if refrigerated.

                                I will have to put "The Last Picture Show" in my Blockbuster queue, tho', to see if any of those PA pilsners truly meets your requirements, since I haven't seen it since its release <g>.

                          2. Technically I agree. Some beverages go better with some foods. But honestly, I drink what I enjoy. For a nice dinner party I would try to match the wine with the food but several of my friends would be upset if I didn't make my bourbon sliders and if I served white wine would be offended ... so ... I learned to serve a little of what I feel pairs best and that which everyone likes and enjoys but can still taste something new. It works best for me.

                            1. Yes, beer is just as good as wine to pair with food.

                              It is particularly true of some foods. Take cheese for example. It is hard to get a great wine cheese pairing. There are some that work but beers tend to work better. Try a blue cheese with a Strong Belgian Abbey Ale or goat's cheese with a Hefeweizen. Sharp Parmesan goes well with a Amber Ale and good cheddar works perfectly with a Brown Ale.

                              Other examples are chocolate desserts. I have had just one memorable wine pairing with such a dessert, but try a Rochefort 10 or even an RIS and you will have a great match.

                              So yes, there are some foods that work better with beers than they do with wine. As others have said, it does ultimately come down to your personal preferences and those of your guests. That said, don't shy away from trying a beer pairing with food or even from serving one to your guests, you may surprise both them and yourself with how well it works with a range of foods.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: dgilks

                                I've been fascinated with beer ever since I was a child watching the beer commercials during baseball games in the early 70's. This was before the craft brewing revolution. When I became of age, I sampled every beer and beer style available and got into homebrewing. Like everyone else, I have my favorites. And my tastes change. I used to like the super hopped ales, but now my tastes tend to favor pilsners and Dortmunder style lagers. Great Lakes Brewing Co. of Cleveland makes an excellent Dortmunder. Too bad it isn't available here in N.J.

                                I love Pilsner Urquell, but there are other great Czech Pilsners. Havlicek, Rebel, and Vyshcosky (sp) are as good, if not better. When I'm in the mood I enjoy a lighter or less aggressive Pilsner like Grolsch, Lowenbrau, or Stoudt's. Prima Pils is excellent as well.

                                I love hot dogs, bratwurst, and other German sausages. Beer definitely goes better with these than wine. Until recently, I never really enjoyed beer with food. I drank it on its own, or as an appetizer before a meal. I enjoy beer now occasionally with a meal.

                                My absolute favorite combination is a Newark style Italian Hot Dog with a Grolsch lager.

                                1. re: dgilks

                                  True, every party I always have a new or different beer available and will offer small chilled glasses for people to try it. I also love serving desert wines. They are fun to try and different and many people have never really tried them. Also some ports of fun, A lot of people don't really how good they are.

                                  I make a mango, boysenberry and honey flan with toasted spicy glazed pecans and a bourbon marscapone and this is great served with a desert wine. My local wine shop gave me 2-3 to try and I loved them all. It was a perfect paring.

                                  1. re: kchurchill5

                                    Chilled glasses will actually diminish people's experience with the beer. Beer is best served at around 55-60 degrees. Colder than that, and a lot of the flavor and character is masked by the cold temperature.

                                2. I have always been a very wine-centric person until I moved to a province (Quebec) that produces great beer and I actually experienced properly brewed ale instead of cheap commercial ale. That being said, recently, I am much more into beer than wine. Something that I thought I would never ever say. The question asked in this topic is something which I have thought about a lot lately. I have come to the comclusion, that for me, there is very little that beer cannot match well with and, for me, there are so many foods that DEMAND beer: Indian, Mexican, Sushi... to name a few.

                                  About the only thing in which beer would not be as well suited is certain grilled meats in which the tannins in the wine, say a heft cab, play nicely with the grilled bits. Also, some cheeses maybe. Let's say foods that are very high in fat that need to be cut with an acidic wine. It would be hard, although not impossible, to find a beer that would work well. There are sour beers, but I haven't tried them with fatty foods, so yeah.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: The Chemist

                                    Brown ales and stouts sometimes do have tannins, from the roasted grain husks. For acidic wines, gueuze is a great substitute, or Berliner weisse.

                                    1. re: Josh

                                      Yeah, but how much tannins to those stouts have? Enough to stand up to a charbroiled steak? Maybe. And yeah, the Berliner weisse was what I had in mind for a sour beer. Is it enough to cut say a fatty cheese or foie? I don't know.

                                      1. re: The Chemist

                                        I never really think about the tannin when I pair a steak with beer. I am thinking more about roasty and caramelized malts that complement the charbroil flavor. Perhaps we are talking about the same thing, but I think big imperial stouts and porters with a lot of body and malt flavors pair very nicely.

                                        1. re: The Chemist

                                          Charred meat means caramelized sugars and proteins, and roasty beers like porters, stouts, and brown ales have those same caramelized flavors. One of the best I've had was lamb sirloin cooked in a cast iron skillet with a little salt and cracked pepper. The outside was very well-browned and crusty, the inside rare, and it was indescribably delicious paired with Sam Smith's Nut Brown ale. I'd be hard pressed to imagine a better pairing of flavors than that.

                                          Berliner weisse might be good with fatty cheese, sure, though I'd be more inclined to try a Cantillon or Oud Beersel gueuze.

                                      2. re: The Chemist

                                        I can agree with you in the specific area of spicier Mexican, Indian and other similar dishes "demanding" beer; and even sushi where a good dollop of wasabi and dose of soy sauce are utilized. Beer works better than wine under those specific conditions I think.

                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                          Vinho verde.

                                          1. re: Josh

                                            The "frizzante" aspect makes the difference?

                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                              That, along with the low alcohol, light body, and sharp acidity. Before I was a beer guy I used to pair vinho verde with stuff like chicken rolled tacos (a popular item at San Diego taco shops). It's a great match for spicy or fried foods, as well as seafood.

                                              Another interesting beverage I tried recently is Hitachino Nest's Yuzu Wine. My local pub got some bottles of this in, and while it is pricey, the citrusy qualities make me think it'd be a stellar match for sushi. Just have to figure out where I can get a bottle sold somewhere other than a bar.

                                              1. re: Josh

                                                Is that a beer? I mean, is it a wine in the sense that there is fermented yuzu juice (sounds expensive), or is it more of a beer in the sense that maybe they took their wit and flavored it with yuzu?

                                                1. re: nfo

                                                  It's a fruit wine. Quite tasty. A little pricy... If I remember correctly, which is usually not the case, last I saw it was $17 for a 500mL bottle.

                                                  I order case(s) for the store I work at in Cambridge whenever it's available. Which is infrequent. It's been long enough since last time that I suspect it will be around again soon.