The cold weather months are when many breweries release their strongest, most assertively-flavored beers. The bold flavors of these seasonal warmers can pair nicely with hearty foods to create a satisfying foil to winter’s chill.
Any successful food and beverage pairing requires a balance of flavor intensity between food and drink. When big beers are included in a meal—in general, beers that exceed 7% alcohol by volume are considered big beers—an harmonious pairing requires richly-flavored foods that can stand up to the beer’s intensity.
“You don’t want the beer to overpower the food,” explains Chef Bruce Paton, of San Francisco’s Cathedral Hill Hotel, when asked about pairing big beers and food. Patton, a k a “the Beer Chef,” has been hosting gourmet beer dinners for 12 years.
“Your biggest fear is that someone tastes the food and sips the beer, and the beer just totally overtakes the food,” adds Mercer Mohr, executive chef at the Ocotillo Restaurant in Vail, Colorado.
Paton and Mohr recently collaborated on a Brewmasters Dinner as part of the annual Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival held in Vail in January. The annual festival features some of the strongest and most flavorful beers produced in the US and abroad. Each course of the meal was paired with one big beer each from Odell Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colorado, and The Lost Abbey of San Marcos, California.
Below is a recipe from the Big Beers dinner for Normandy Brie Soup. The beer pairings are noted. Since these beers have limited distribution, other suggested beer pairings are also listed.
NORMANDY BRIE SOUP WITH FRESH BLACK TRUFFLES
½ cup shallots
1 teaspoon garlic
2 cups dry white wine
2 ounces white truffle oil
2 quarts chicken stock
½ cup white roux
2 pounds brie cheese
½ cup Parmesan cheese
3 cups heavy cream
Salt and white pepper
Sliced black truffle
Sweat the shallots in the truffle oil (do not brown), add the white wine, garlic and reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and thicken with a roux. Add the brie cheese, Parmesan cheese and adjust the consistency. Strain the soup, add the cream and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with black truffle, truffle oil and sprig of fresh Chervil.
Odell Double Pilsner (hoppy lager based on Bohemian Pilsner style, 8% abv)
Lost Abbey Lost & Found (Belgian-style Abbey Ale, 7.5% abv)
Other Pairing Suggestions:
New Belgium Abbey
North Coast Brother Thelonious
Victory Hop Devil