Malty Matchmakers: Local Couple Pioneers Beer Pairings
A salty hot afternoon of sunburns and beach volleyball? There’s a beer for that.
Sweatshirt clad in the Sierras gathered around a crackling winter fire? There’s a beer for that too.
In fact, since the number of craft breweries began springing up a few years ago, there’s a craft beer for just about any situation you can imagine, and for food too. Where once wine and cheese pairings were the only matchmaking advice to be found, more and more restaurants and connoisseurs are enjoying the flexibility and variety that beer offers to complement everything from steak to seafood to roasted veggies and sweet desserts.
Emily Baime Michaels and her husband, Darin Michaels, are two Sacramento locals reaching for a local brew over a glass of wine with their home-based organization Community Tap and Table—a self-described cooking, eating and drinking hub. The two didn’t meet over drinks, but it wasn’t long before their common interests and respective backgrounds—Emily with her love of cooking and Darin as a beer distributor— resulted in a project where they could share their interests and meet other likeminded eaters along the way.
Several years ago, Emily had taken a class with Georgeanne Brennan in Winters, “where you would come up to the farm and go to the Davis farmers market and shop for ingredients and go back to the farm and cook….” Emily’s idea was to offer a similar style of locally sourced ingredients for cooking classes and include wine pairings, but Darin had a different idea for which their endeavor is now known: beer pairings.
In the beginning Emily and Darin were holding six to 10 events a month, teaching everything from how to cure your own artisan bacon to making chèvre from fresh goat’s milk, but eventually scaled back the offerings to make room for their day jobs. The result was enough time to research and write what is now a compendium of their favorite recipes, A Year in Food & Beer. The book comes complete with unique, seasonal recipes and beer pairing notes, along with everything a consumer needs to know about beer tasting vocabulary and stemware to proper serving techniques and how to pair the right beer with recipes of your own.
Though the Community Tap and Table schedule has become more manageable in recent times—“it’s minimal compared with what it was before,” Emily says—they still look forward to their most popular yearly event, the 12 Beers of Christmas. As Emily tells it, 12 Beers is their holiday party gone wild, with guests crammed into the kitchen whipping up 12 different courses like barbecued oysters, pomegranate polenta and rosewater pavlova while Darin distributes the corresponding brews from his post at the beer fridge.
Though the days of the keg and Solo cups are gone and done for, the brew-centric party model remains a great way to explore new flavors or introduce less experienced friends and family to some of your favorites. The Michaels have some easy pointers for hosting a beer-tasting party, noting that it’s not so important to have a particular type of glass for every style of beer offered, as this likely means renting glassware and washing lots of dishes. Instead, opt for service in tulip glasses, the best compromise that allows the aroma of the beer to reach your nose instead of “escaping” straight out the top of ye olde quotidian pint glass.
When serving beers, place them at separate stations, the bottles in ice buckets, and allow guests to help themselves in an established order from the lowest-bitterness (IBU) beer to highest. Provide a pitcher of cold water to be poured into glassware between tastes with a bucket for the rinse water. Put some tasting notes about the beers alongside each table to help your guests discover and describe what it is they're tasting. Take it even further by masking the bottles in bags for a “blind taste.” Those guests who thought they’d never touch anything but pilsner may find a brown ale to their liking after all.
By the numbers, plan for each guest to try three to four ounces of each beer, and that four to eight beers will be available. A 12-ounce bottle will provide three tastes, and a 22-ounce bottle will offer six tastes. You may also want to provide a low-alcohol option for those guests interested in a full pint of something that won’t leave them too tipsy to enjoy themselves.
When it comes to the final washing up, forego the dish soap. “Aside from maybe a lipstick smudge, there’s nothing in a beer glass that needs that kind of washing,” Darin says, noting that any soapy residue in a glass will affect the drink, making the beer fall flat. Instead, rinse the glass out, give it a wipe with a glass cloth and let air dry.
These pointers and more can be found in the final chapter of A Year in Food & Beer, and while 12 beers for 12 courses in the tradition of Community Tap and Table may be a bit ambitious on your own, that’s where the beauty of beer comes in. All anyone’s going to remember is your great success.
Fall foods: pumpkin ravioli, roasted veggies, acorn squash soup
Pair with: Märzen, a German-style lager, usually amber in color and served around 50°, making it easier to pair with warmer foods or soups without hurting the drinker’s teeth.
Suggested beers: Sudwerk’s Märzen, a mild and nutty lager available year round. For something more pronounced, try Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, a brown ale brewed with pumpkin meat and brown sugar for a smooth and spicy brew.
Winter foods: roasted meats, dried fruits, fresh greens and citrus
Pair with: dark, warming beers such as porters and stouts and high-alcohol sippers like barley wine—or, as Darin jokes, “any beer with a snowflake on the label.”
Suggested beers: Lost Coast’s Downtown Brown, an English-style brown ale with notes of caramel and hazelnut. For a Christmas surprise, try Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale, brewed with a different recipe every year since 1975.