Beer & Food, A Magnificent Pairing
Originally published February 17, 2010
More people are coming to discover great craft and imported beer through the seemingly magical power of food. As a chef friend of mine likes to say, “Everybody has to eat” — and that has allowed him and many others to present flavorful beers in a fine dining setting.
But pairing food with beer hasn’t been new since the dawn of civilization, when beer was safer to drink than water.
It wasn’t until the early 19th century that the very concept of gourmet food was first articulated, encouraging people to consider what they were eating and how different flavor combinations could enhance the experience. In Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s brilliant “The Physiology of Taste,” first published in 1825, he pioneered many concepts we take for granted today.
“Alcohol is the king of potables,” he wrote, “and carries to the nth degree the excitation of our palates: its diverse preparations have opened up to us many new sources of pleasure.”
The death of the six-pack lunch
For centuries, alcohol accompanied every meal, sometimes staggeringly so. San Francisco newspaper columnist Charles McCabe wrote an essay in the early 1970s called “Good Hangover,” in which he recounted a late breakfast with an also-hungover friend. They consumed a bottle of beer, two martinis, a bottle of red wine, a scotch and champagne. Each.
But the notion of such midday consumption is long gone. It may have roared back after Prohibition, but it sputtered out again in the late 1970s and ’80s thanks to increased competition in the workplace, coupled with growing concerns about driving under the influence. I also have to think that all the television advertising by the big breweries helped drive beer-drinking away from the dinner table and instead into the party scene.
Once craft beer became a stable part of the beer industry, it started finding itself part of a great meal, too. Over the last 15 years or so, beer has moved well beyond pizza — although pizza and beer remain a heavenly combination — to white tablecloth dining, casual meals and even the dessert menu. In some circles, it is the undisputed king of cheese. Some 90 of the 200 events that comprised last week’s SF Beer Week celebrations focused on food and beer pairings, and half involved full-fledged beer dinners— or breakfasts, brunches or lunches. The list of upscale restaurants participating included Chez Panisse, Farallon and Oliveto.
Sacramento Beer Week
If you didn’t get enough beer during last week’s festivities, you’re in luck. Sacramento Beer Week runs Feb. 22-28, with more than 100 events scheduled so far. Get all the details at http://sacramentobeerweek.com.