Wild Pairs: Diners discover best ways to match beer and food
Beer and food pairings to go with Free State beer
• Copperhead Pale Ale — Musser’s white cheddar, Castelvetrano olives, local peach
• Post Rock Pilsner — BLT napoleon, local basil oil, citrus mayonnaise
• Coeur de Saison — blackberry soup, crème fraiche and black pepper
• Owd Mac’s Imperial Stout — smoked pork slider, hop-spiced pickle, malt barbecue sauce, Rogue blue cheese
• Smoky Hill Porter — local chocolate torte, peated crème anglaise and vanilla powder
The first time Free State Brewing Co. executive chef Rick Martin tasted barley-flavored beer with cheese, he says that perfect pair of flavors gave him goosebumps.
“It made me realize that there were other things out there that could be like that,” he says.
Martin’s food and beer pairings have received national recognition — he’s given cooking performances at the Great American Beer Festival, and he’s featured in a new book called “American Beer and Food.” And in Lawrence, his pairing classes at The Merc have been consistently full, and future ones are already sold out.
The idea of pairing food and beer involves lots of science and a talent for picking out flavors. Martin’s sense of taste shown through the pairings at his classes can give beer a new reputation — the ability to match with all types of food.
At his class on July 28, 32 people sat around four tables in the small teaching room at the Merc ready to learn about the relationship beer could have with food. Wine glasses donned the tables, because, according to Martin, the thinner the glass, the more the flavor of the beer you can taste.
Some, like Connie Browers, a Baldwin City resident, had surprised her husband, Lonnie, with the class. Dorian Logan, a Lawrence resident, says she was there to learn about successful pairing because she wanted to have a beer party that would incorporate them.
“They tell you that red meat goes with red wine, and white wine with fish, but no one tells you about what to put beer with,” Logan says.
Matching a brew with a meal is different than the more common matching of wine and food.
“When you’re pairing food and wine, it’s very one-dimensional because it’s based on grapes,” Martin says. “Beer is based on many different types of grains, hops, yeast and a lot of flavor combinations, so you have a lot more to play with.”
Martin says there are three main components to pairing food and beer. Implementing either of them will lead to a successful pairing — which is more of a science and a sense for taste than one would imagine.
The first factor to a good pairing is what Martin calls the bridge.
“I always refer to it as being the flavor you can find in both the food and the beer,” he says.
An example of a pairing based on the bridge concept could be a beer flavored with orange and a candied orange. Both of the flavors would create a bridge between the food and the beverage.
The second pairing component, according to Martin, is the “harmony.”
“It’s a flavor that you find in both — something that is already present, and not just in a halfway sort of sense,” Martin says.
Martin says an example of harmony could be a food that is already aromatic — such as roasted pork with caramelized onions — and a hoppy beer like amber ale.
“If you’ve got a really funky cheese, find a really funky beer — they’re both dysfunctional,” he says.
The third way to pair is by using contrast.
“Contrast beer with food that don’t have much common but somehow complement each other,” he says.
For example, Martin says, vanilla ice cream, which is very light, contrasted with a heavy beer, can make a palate-pleasing pair.
Martin says another reason beer and food pairing is different is because of the carbonation in the beer.
“It cleanses your palate, and it puts you in a different place with every bite,” he says.
Trial and error
Food and beer pairing is different than cooking with beer — something Martin also talked about in terms of flavor. He says he makes a stout ice cream but that there is no actual beer in it — just the flavors.
“I can’t stress enough how much fun it is working with food that has malts and hops in it,” he says.
Halfway through the class, Logan says she had already gotten ideas for serving appetizers for the party.
Free State brewer Kevin Prescott has been working with Martin since 1989. He poured the beer at the class, and he discussed the history of each one. His job is to make sure the beer has a component that will add to the food in each course.
“It’s 100 percent a scientific art — a palatable art,” he says. “Anybody can make beer, but not everybody can make good beer.”
Prescott says he could tell if his beer paired well with a certain food right when he tasted it.
“It’s satisfying, and you’re like, ‘Damn, snap!'” he says. “It’s like clothing — like making sure your shoes go with your shirt.”
He says pairing involved a lot of trial and error and that it was about chemistry in cooking and brewing.
Miguel Luevano, a Lawrence resident and an employee at the Merc, was with five of his friends at the class. He’d been to the class before and he says he thought it was really well put together and that the pairings were great.
“I never really thought about pairing beer,” he says. “It was surprising how versatile beer could be.”
Martin’s interest in beer pairing started 10 years ago, when he began researching what made beer, beer. He says he enjoyed hanging out with brewers — a brotherhood, he says, that doesn’t have competition like there is among chefs.
“I truly believe in it,” he says. “Beer’s not only good for you, it’s made around the world — and, it’s such a beautiful beverage.”