This friday constitutes a big shout-out to one of my favorite NPR shows: Splendid Table with Lynn Rosetto Casper. With respect to knowing your shit she’s like the Magliozzi brothers (Car Talk), except that you can’t, or shouldn’t, eat motor oil. Via a guest who wrote a book about being a completely insufferable beer snob (my birthday’s in August), Lynn has this advice for pairing beer with food:
Think of ale as red wine and lager as white wine. In other words, when red meat or any dish that you would normally pair with red wine is on the menu, select an ale to serve with it. Conversely, if the main course is fish or poultry, try a lager.
Hoppiness in beer = acidity in wine. Anytime you would seek a wine with high acidity, such as with spicy or oily food, choose a beer with significant hoppiness or bitterness. The more acidic you would want the wine, the hoppier you will want the beer.
Complement or contrast. Try to match foods to beers with complementary characters, such as a robust stew with a full-bodied ale. Or try a contrasting flavor, such as a crisp, refreshing lager with a heavy cream soup.
Keep the beer sweeter than the dessert. Nothing kills the flavor of a beer like the overpowering sweetness of a dessert, so try to keep the sugar contents of both beer and dessert balanced. (An exception to this rule can be made for chocolate, which pairs well even with dry stout.)
I would add one thing to this list: if you’re thinking about making moules frites, a Belgian tradition that amounts to a big pot of mussels cooked with onions and white wine and paired with bottomless thick-cut french fries with mayonnaise and mustard, then you basically have one choice: Leffe gold.
By far the best of the inexpensive Belgian ales, or the cheapest of the great Belgian ales, in true Belgian bars in the continent Leffe is what you’ll find conveniently served in you choice of a liter or (for small children) a half-liter. The Leffe line only goes up from there, with a good trippel-style dark ale and a concoction they call Radieuse which I can only describe as sunlight in a bottle, but not in the thin wheat-beer way. Indulge your snobbery if you can find it.
For today’s non-beer alternative, I’ve made some effort to answer a commenter’s question of what wine to serve with Thai food. Search me, but with a little searching I came across this discussion thread which seemed helpful. The consensus seems to be Pinot Noir or a dry Riesling depending on what you’re serving, but beware of tannins. The spiciness of Thai will exaggerate tannins and turn your heritage Merlot into a bottom-shelf Mondavi. In fact, with spicy food I wouldn’t worry about the cost or quality as much because in my experience you won’t be able to tell.
Pad Thai and piquant Thai dishes–
Thai food’s generally light-bodied, but the flavors pack a wallop. And almost every dish combines sweet, sour, salty and hot elements. Chilled, slightly sweet Riesling, especially from Germany, can be fabulous; also look for dry Gewurztraminer or a fruit-packed Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps from New Zealand.
In fact, with truly spicy food you’re usually better off with a good, light (NOT lite) beer. Beer’s coolness and carbonation offset the spiciness in ways that a wine won’t, and the carbohydrates will absorb capscicins which make spicy food ‘hot.’ That relief from the food’s heat then gives you more of an opportunity to enjoy the beer.
*** Update ***
Not to queer Tim’s excellent Beer-Blogging (this is John writing, btw), but currently I am drinking more box wine. Black Box Wine, to be exact, and this Shiraz is pretty damned tasty. Very fruity smell, a bright first taste, and a deep, rich finish. I like it.
Of course I am drinking it because a glass of wine a night is good for your heart.