You may have noticed that today’s my 50th birthday, and it’s also time for another Top Ten list. I’m hungry … really hungry, so I thought I’d make that the topic for my eighth Top 10 list — my favorite foods to pair with beer. I’m not talking specifics, just the best overall types of food that seem to naturally lend themselves to being improved by being paired with beer, at least to my eccentric palate. These might not all necessarily be the best pairings, but my favorites, and I lean toward comfort food, fried food and anything that’s really bad for you. And since I tend to pair beer with almost all the food I love, this list is perhaps more about the food I prefer than the pairings. But it’s my birthday, and I’m hungry, so whattayagonnado? Anyway, here’s List #8:
Top 10 Favorite Food & Beer Pairings
|Ice Cream This is an especially fun pairing to share with someone who’s never tried it, I guess because most people don’t think it will actually be good. But then they try it and make that surprised “hey, this is good” face, like I was trying to punk them into trying something awful. Vanilla with a porter or stout is good, but so are bourbon barrel-aged beers with almost anything so that the vanilla adds to the mix. Blue Moon, believe it or not, had a peanut butter beer at GABF last year that I’d wager would be terrific over some chocolate ice cream.
|Pizza, Etc. Pizza is almost too obvious, but it is a terrific combination. It’s no accident that so many brewpubs serve pizza. But there are also several pizza-like Italian dishes that work equally as well in my mind, like Lasagna and Calzone, the heavier the dish, the better they work for me, at least.
|Cheesesteaks, Etc. I grew up not too far from Philly, so I tend to believe that the cheesesteak is one of the finest expressions of comfort food ever invented. But there are differences in them from town to town, and the ones I grew up on used real cheese rather than the cheese whiz type you usually see at Pat’s and other central Philly locations. I acknowledge what most people believe, that the bread is probably the key to getting the taste right, though I confess I prefer a soft roll to a hard one, too. Before I could drink, I found that I loved pairing Orange Juice with cheesesteaks, but only later discovered how good beer works with them, too. Of course, you also need good potato chips to make the meal perfect. Generally speaking, many heavy beef dishes go spectacularly well with beer in my mind, especially a thick steak heavily laden with mushrooms, beef chili or a good meatloaf.
|Chocolate It often surprises people how well chocolate works with beer, especially rich, dark ales like porters and stouts. But those same people rarely know that those beer styles already often naturally have chocolate notes in them, so it seems incredibly obvious that they’d pair up nicely. And boy do they, especially when the chocolate has some fruit, nuts or other component that draws out the complexity in the beer.
|Pulled Pork, Etc. I love pork, and barbecue, but also have an aversion to bones. Just typing the words “biting down on a bone” here causes me to physically shudder, so I tend to gravitate toward pulled pork and other BBQ that no longer has its bones attached. But that pork and its attendant sauce or sauces marry up incredibly well with beer, especially palate cleansing beers heavy with hops. But even non-barbecued pork, like a good baked ham, can be a great dish to pair with beer.
|Turkey Of all the edible fowl, turkey is hands down my favorite. I assume chicken is the clear winner worldwide, and I have nothing against it or duck, goose, pheasant or quail, but I could eat turkey all year round, and in fact, I do. For me, a spicy beer like Anchor’s Christmas Ale or Pike’s Auld Acquaintance brings out the flavors of turkey and all the trimmings perfectly, especially when the turkey’s dry (and I don’t use gravy, either).
|Shepherd’s Pie How could you not love a dish that takes one of the best meals — meat, potato and vegetables — and bakes them all in a pie? I know traditional British pub food is much-maligned, but I love it. And especially a good Shepherd’s pie which, again, has that rich, heaviness that makes it an ideal foil for beer.
|Monte Cristo This is my favorite sandwich hands-down. If you’ve never had one, it’s a turkey, ham and cheese sandwich that’s then deep-fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. For extra goodness, it’s usually served with strawberry jam that you dip the sandwich into. If it’s on a menu, I order it. No questions asked. The only thing that could make it better is French Fries and a beer.
|Frittes Take beer out of the equation, and potatoes jump to the top spot. I love potatoes no matter what the form, but I’m especially partial to potato chips. Where I grew up, there were dozens of small, local potato chip makers, some just farmers, in effect micro-chippers or craft chipperies. But warm frittes, especially with multiple sauces for dipping, work far better with beer as far as I’m concerned. Whether Belgian-style frittes, steak fries, shoestring fries, crinkle cut, or even waffle-cut, I can make a meal out of that.
|Cheese How could anything top the singular joy of combining two of life’s already greatest pleasures — cheese and beer — and discovering that they are so much better together than the sum of their parts. They are true synergy, the perfect pairing. I could almost live on cheese and beer, but ‘d miss potatoes, bacon and so much more way too much.
I also can appreciate oysters and stout, but I’m not a big fan of seafood generally so that’s why so few things from the sea make my list. I do love Fish & Chips, of course, because anything fried is good in my mind, even Calamari, but still ranks below many other dishes. And while Bacon improves any dish, it’s magic is as an additive, not as a stand-alone dish, otherwise it would probably make the list.
What are your favorite pairings?
Also, if you have any ideas for future Top 10 lists you’d like to see, drop me a line.