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Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Throw Pairing Rules Out the Window

Champagne and cider with steak? Mezcal with cheese? Dopplebock and lemon meringue pie? Wine Enthusiast Food Editor Nils Bernstein speaks with four drinks experts and raconteurs turning the world of food pairing upside down. Hear from The Champagne Parlor and Tokyo Record Bar Owner Ariel Arce, Shacksbury Cider Co-Founder David Dolginow, Beverage Director and Sommelier for Rosa Mexicano restaurants Courtenay Greenleaf, and The Publican Beer Director Adam Vavrick.

Listen to other episodes of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast

Read the full transcript of “Throw Pairing Rules Out the Window”:

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, The World in Your Glass.

Nils Bernstein: Hi, this is Nils Bernstein; Food Editor for Wine Enthusiast. Lemon meringue pie in beer? Oh, yeah. As you might have noticed, food and drink pairing in restaurants these days means a lot more than just white or red wine. We’re seeing Beverage Directors suggesting beer, cider, sake, spirits, mixed drinks with everything from salads to shellfish to steaks to dessert.

In this podcast, we’ll talk to some experts about why you should open your mind to some less conventional pairings.

Ariel Arce: Hi, my name is Ariel Arce, and I’m the owner of Air’s Champagne Parlor and Tokyo Record Bar.

NB: When you talk about pairing, obviously food and wine people talk about … Tend to be very basic. They might have champagne at the beginning of a meal or at the end. But for you, how do you like to drink champagne or sparkling wines with food?

AA: For me, with food, I think that champagne is the most versatile wine that you can use. There’s so much acid in champagne that generally, it’s a pretty easy pair. There’s only two foods I generally stay away from; one of which is spice and the other is very, very heavy, rich, spicy flavors, but everything else is a really wonderful pair.

You’re never going to find that a glass of champagne is going to be too powerful to eat with any sort of rich-style foods or foods with a lot of kind of flavoring character. So, what I like to do is actually kind of break down the flavor profiles of the champagnes and think about them more as their own identities of flavors, and then pair them with foods accordingly.

NB: What might be an example of a champagne type and foods that might go with that style?

AA: Sure, so champagne is a very interesting wine because it has a lot of different styles. So you have champagnes that are actually blended from multiple grapes or you have champagnes that are single grape varietals. And then, you also have aging, which gives more flavor or body or texture complexity to a wine.

So, when thinking about champagne, it can run the gamut and the spectrum of flavors from everything from just deep minerality to apples and pears to currants to cherries to strawberries and berries to then, getting into more savory notes like toasted almonds and honeysuckles and mints and these really kind of more herbaceous undertones and vegetal tones.

NB: Right, and all of those flavors that you mention are things that are incredibly versatile in themselves in terms of food and culinary use and everything else.

With sweetness level, a Brut Nature versus a Brut, how would that affect what you might pair a champagne with?

AA: Brut Nature is a very kind of tricky subject because it technically means that there’s no sugar in it or added to it, but they can range from being very light to being very rich in style, depending on how luscious the vintage was or how cold it was so therefore it didn’t have a lot of sugar. I always find that I like to find out what the base grape of the wine is, be it Pinot Noir or Chardonnay you’re essentially going to have a very different wine, and when they get to the lighter side I generally tend to stay with lighter foods, of course.

This is why champagne and seafood, shellfish, flavors that are very light and selenic and bright always pair very well with champagne. But then, when you’re thinking about Brut Nature with Pinot Noir they get a bit more richer and more curranted. So, you can go anywhere from doing that with like vegetables to even with a steak sometimes if you’re doing something that’s very lightly salted and smoked or spiced.

NB: Yeah, I was gonna say I had recently, at a restaurant a grilled rib eye that was paired with a, it was a richer style; it wasn’t a Rose champagne, but it was a richer style of champagne and it as incredible. I mean you talk about the acidity, which is a big part of it, but of course another huge part of pairing food with champagne is the texture and the cleansing effect that the bubbles have with fattier foods.

What are some of the other, besides acidity, some of the other characteristics of champagne that tend to make it versatile with food?

AA: Absolutely. I mean Rose is such a fun category to talk about because there’s so many variations within Rose, and I always like to say those are my steak wines.

NB: Yeah.

AA: Those are actually the most versatile when I try to introduce someone to a new style of champagne because you can go as light and floral as maybe generally think of Rose to really tannic, and really rich, and really like full-body, deep, rich, spicy, kind of cherries and fuller flavors.

So, for me, again, I really like to go back to kind of breaking down the flavors of a wine, and then I think about how those things work. So, when I think about apples and pears and light green notes I think of what I would normally eat apples and pears with, so you think about nutty textures, you think about herbaceous textures and flavors. And then, you can kind of very easily find comparable pairs.

With champagne it’s much easier to compliment than to try to match.

NB: Right.

AA: So when you get into heavier, more kind of oaky, woody, fuller, dynamic, complexed flavors I generally like to balance them out with maybe a lighter style food rather than trying to match them with heavy, heavy, rich foods like something cooked in butter, something cooked in heavy oil, something with a lot of spice or something straight off a grill.

Instead, I find that I’d rather do wine that has a lot of flavors with something that it’s going to kind of support rather than the two combating one another.

NB: I think it’s interesting, sous-viding is such a trend right now and I find that with sous-vided meats and seafood champagne can be really amazing because you’re not getting a lot of charred notes or a lot of burnt notes, you’re just getting the subtlety of the meat itself, which can be really amazing with a range of champagnes.

Some people say that to bring out a lot of the complexity of champagne the temperature that it’s served at can make a difference that maybe colder temperatures might bring out more citrus notes, warmer temperatures more richer notes. Is that something that can affect what foods you might pair champagne with?

AA: Totally. Actually, when I think about climate the colder it is the less you’re actually going to pull out of a wine.

NB: Right.

AA: So, we’ve been conditioned to drink our champagne really cold. And if I’m sitting poolside and I want a really nice icy glass of champagne for me, I tend to drink the non-vintage, blended wine, something that’s really bright and crispy, and then you are just gonna get those light acids; those apples, those pears, those lime zests and lemon zests, whatever the nature of the wine.

But once you let a wine come to temperature that’s not the most pleasurable way to drink champagne, but technically, if you let it come down you’re gonna find the disconnect between the sugar and the acid. The wine will inevitably start to show its characteristics because it’s warm, and it’s loose, and it’s alive. So, depending on what temperature you’re serving the wine at, you are gonna pull out different notes. But, a wine is only going to be as expressive as it is so it’s really dependent on the wine itself.

If you’re drinking these fresh, non-vintage wines with a lot of acidity to them, even if they’re room temperature you’re still gonna get those acids.

NB: Right.

AA: It’s really about expressing the sugar more once you start lowering the temperature.

NB: So, what you’re saying is a lot of people think of pairing champagne throughout a meal with a salad, with soup, with a main dish, with dessert is kind of a radical concept. But, the way you talk about it is the way you talk about wine in general. Champagne is a wine, it’s one of the world’s great wines and the concerns in terms of pairing champagne with food are the same as pairing any wine with food.

AA: Absolutely. I mean I just like to say that champagne is wine 2.0.

NB: Exactly.

AA: Like it’s just wine with bubbles. We’re in a really lucky age now where we have so many winemakers that are so thoughtful and so sophisticated that they are not thinking about bubbles first; they’re thinking about what is underneath the effervescence and using the effervescence to support it. So, for me, if you are only drinking kind of big brand wines that you’re not really getting to experience at the right temperature or in the right glass then, inevitably, you’re not seeing the range of champagne and the range of really kind of thoughtfully made wines.

NB: Right. So the message is drink more champagne, drink it more often, and drink it with any foods you want.

AA: Absolutely.

NB: Perfect. Thank you so much.

AA: Of course.

David Dolginow: Hi, my name is David Dolginow. I’m the co-founder of Shacksbury Cider in Vergennes, Vermont.

NB: So, let’s talk about pairing cider with food. Cider is not something you typically see paired in restaurants, but it actually is incredibly versatile with food. Would you agree?

DD: I would agree a hundred percent.

NB: All right.

DD: The cider industry started in this recent resurgence with sweeter, bubblier ciders, but is now definitely moving more and more toward dry and food-friendly ciders, and they have an amazing versatility with all kinds of different foods.

NB: And there’s history there, right? I mean with Basque cider?

DD: Exactly, yeah. In the Basque Region; one of the world class regions for food and beverage, they have a very longstanding cider tradition. It’s a very unique style. It’s a Bone Dry cider and it’s high in acidity and so it pairs beautifully with high like fattier, saltier foods. And so the Basque cider houses they typically have a fixed menu and so you first have a cod omelet, and then chorizo cooked in the cider, chorizo la sidra, and then a chuleta, which is basically a big t-bone steak. They serve that at probably 20 or 30 or even more different cider houses all throughout the Basque Region and those salty, fatty foods just pair beautifully with the high-acid cider.

NB: And here we might pair very different wines with each of those dishes, but there they’re going cider, cider, cider.

DD: Yeah, yeah, and I think that nowadays you can really take cider in a variety of different directions. The fact that they have put cider with red meat I think is particularly interesting because in the United States we laud the sort of classic Cab Sauv with the steak, but in fact, a nice lean, acidic cider can be a wonderful balance to a really beautiful steak.

NB: Generally speaking, obviously there’s a lot of different types of ciders, you were talking about the Basque style, but kind of as a whole what about cider makes it food-friendly?

DD: Yeah, so I think where it … One of the reasons why cider is here to stay and it’s not just another fad is because of how well it compliments food. So, cider is lower alcohol than wine typically, and because of that it is a little more delicate I would say. But, at the same time it is lighter bodied than beer and so it kind of serves this other role in food pairings, and it’s just another tool in the toolkit that people have to find different ciders that might work with different foods.

NB: You were telling me earlier when we were talking that you and your brother have a tradition when you get together. What’s that?

DD: Yeah, so we both love Ottolenghi’s quinoa salad with the herbs and pomegranate and citrus, so when we get together we often end up hosting at least one or two dinners and this salad is a fixture of our dinners together. It just works beautifully with our Arlo cider, which is light and fruity but still has really nice acidity, and it’s just a really fun, casual, healthful way to open up a social occasion.

NB: Now you produce a range of ciders yourself, so when you’re talking kind of an almost Bone Dry cider versus one with a bit more residual sugar how might that differ as far as what foods you’d pair them with?

DD: Yeah. So, right after we finish this podcast interview my partner and I and Alex are heading to Momofuku for dinner and Momofuku Ssam Bar has been serving our Semi-Dry cider and it is an incredible pairing with some of those big flavorful dishes that they create.

NB: You’re talking about some really powerful Korean and other Asian flavors with sweetness and spice and things that one might think is hard to pair wine with.

DD: Yeah, absolutely. When we first started Shacksbury we experimented with a bunch of dishes for our series of dinners that we were hosting and really settled on David Chang’s recipe for Bossam, which is a Korean-style pork butt. You basically take the pork butt or pork shoulder, you put on a very hefty layer of salts and some sugar, and then you slow roast it for many hours and it kind of caramelizes and melds, and it’s this salty, sweet, fatty, just beautiful chorus of flavors.

Again, the Semi-Dry cider that we make has really nice tannins to kind of hold the structure and to balance out those big flavors. But, at the same time, with the really more spicy sauces that he puts with it; the ssam sauce being the most typical one, I think the appley character of our cider along with the tannins really works in balancing out the spice but also, holding up a bit to those flavors.

NB: And there’s of course the cleansing effect of the bubbles.

DD: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

NB: Beer and sparkling wine people would say the same thing that part of that scrubbing bubbles effect can be really great with fatty foods and just as a cleansing effect.

DD: Yeah, absolutely. I would say without knowing for sure the vast majority of cider in the United States has some amount of effervescence, not the level of a champagne, but probably the level of a beer, and that is I think a nice amount of effervescence can do just that; pair and work with the food and not distract you from the food.

NB: So, I find it surprising, to be honest, that more restaurants don’t offer a cider by the glass in their kind of glass lineup. What would you suggest to restaurants’ Wine Directors how they might introduce cider into their repertoire?

DD: Yeah, I think a good way to approach cider today is to have both a sweet cider offering because that’s where a lot of cider drinkers are today and also, a dry food-driven offering, whether it’s a traditional European cider or one of the many, many domestic producers today that are making really incredible food-driven, complex ciders.

By offering one of each I think you can kind of capture where the cider market is today.

NB: So you’ve talked about the two of your go-tos with cider are Mexican cuisine and Chinese.

DD: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

NB: And we talked about Korean, some of the Korean flavors that … I wouldn’t say Momofuku’s traditional Korean food but certainly those are some of those intense, sweet, spicy, Korean flavors.

DD: Yeah.

NB: Are there any other cuisines that jump to mind that are go-tos for you with cider?

DD: Yeah, so Nils, I’m a native Kansas Citian so I would be doing a disservice to my heritage if we didn’t make some ciders that went really well with barbecue.

NB: Absolutely. Cider of course, has a very long, rich history in the United States so it’s really a very patriotic pairing.

DD: Absolutely, and absolutely the same way that barbecue does. So, when I go home this July 4th to Kansas City you bet my dad will be smoking at least two or three slabs of ribs and a brisket, and we will be drinking loads of loads of our just Dry Farmhouse cider. Again, it has the tannin to hold up to those big flavors of the pork ribs and the beef brisket, but then at the same time enough kind of appley-ness to refresh and the bubbles like you were saying to help cleanse and refresh as you’re going back and forth between bites.

NB: Well, you sold me, so thanks so much and I’ll see you at Momofuku tonight.

DD: Wonderful. Thanks, Nils.

Courtenay Greenleaf: Hi, my name is Courtenay Greenleaf. I am the Corporate Beverage Director with Rosa Mexicano.

NB: Thanks, Courtenay. So, we’re talking about a subject near and dear to my heart, which is agave spirits; tequila and mezcal to simplify it, and we’re talking about pairing kind of unconventional pairings with food. Now I happen to think that agave spirits and food go incredibly well together. There’s a lot of savory, herbal, fruit characteristics that go with a variety of food and not just Mexican.

Off the top of your head what do you think when you think of pairing agave spirits with food?

CG: I think it’s the most spectacular pairing of two things together. One of my personal favorites, you’re asking me my first thought, I do find myself amongst a lot of varieties of different mezcal pairing with chocolate, which is my personal.

NB: All right, now we’re talking.

CG: Agave spirits lend so such diverse nuances. As you’re saying, you have the savory, you have floral nuances, citrus, you have earthiness, you have funkiness. Then, you talk about other … If you’re doing any aging you then can talk about the oak.

NB: What do agave spirits have that maybe a way that you wouldn’t pair say a vodka or a whiskey or something else?

CG: Well, I feel that the agave spirit can lend so much complexity in one particular distillation. So you are getting either that floral note and then it switches into this getting other sweet agave notes, but then you’re getting this earthiness. And being mostly batch-proof right out of the still you’re not blending it, diluting it with any water, so it’s just a batch-proof spirit so you’re really truly getting a beautiful distillate.

I feel that there’s just so much, I’ll repeat myself again, complexity, that it allows for such a beautiful experience with any pairing.

NB: Oh, yeah. Well, it’s funny cause I think for a lot of people the idea of pairing a straight spirit with food is really unexpected, but to hear you talk about it you’re really using wine language in a sense. You’re talking about citrus and earth and mineral and floral and these qualities that are in a straight mezcal or tequila, or a good one. That’s really what you’re also getting in a lot of great wines.

CG: Yeah, absolutely. Terroir … Yeah, it’s everything that comes into it.

NB: Yeah, it’s the beauty of it.

CG: And I think that maybe some people are hesitant about it being a high-proof spirit they associate mixing, and that’s not a problem that’s still delicious, sure. But to really get the true nuance and the statement of that distillate it’s right there in that just single glass.

NB: I think a lot of people think, ‘Okay, Mexican food, I love drinking margaritas with Mexican food. Yeah, I pair agave spirits.’ But we’re really talking about something different. You really want to get that terroir, that essence of the spirit is really best by tasting it straight with the food.

CG: Yeah. I love drinking mezcal, as I said, chocolate, some other rich foods, but even wonderful with ceviches and a nice grilled fish.

Eating a beautiful rib eye the other day, had a nice model quiche mezcal and then also, me and my fiance we love to have a Ramen with it and it’s that richness of that broth with … So yes, there’s so many avenues.

NB: You heard it here first, Ramen and mezcal. Oh, my God, that sounds amazing.

I think for me a lot of grilled meats are amazing with a more traditionally made mezcal because you get these kind of roasty, charred notes in the mezcal that can kind of compliment each other.

CG: Yeah, it’s the big characteristics of the mezcal and having a nice hearty piece of protein it just they stand up to each other and can really have a great conversation. I also feel like a nice marbled piece and you’re getting that alcohol that kind of can cut through with such strong statements on the palate. But yeah, it’s such an amazing thing.

You know what’s interesting is I’ve found is that mezcals are so diverse with their flavor, with the nuances on the palate. I mean you could have something that’s very just super floral or you could have a mezcal that just really is fruit-forward or even sometimes have that cheese kind of funk note to it. I was once doing a cheese and mezcal pairing just for my own exploration and I was just shocked where I was just like, “This is amazing!” And “Oh, my God, this is so wrong.” So, it’s interesting.

NB: I was also doing a cheese and mezcal pairing yesterday for my own exploration. I just didn’t think to call it work, but genius.

When you talk about the diversity in mezcal you’re talking about not just the different agaves that they use, but also the production process as well, right?

CG: Yeah, absolutely cause some mezcals have an elevated and brought to a more larger production.

NB: Very diplomatic there.

CG: Correct, yes, yes. And others are still in their very small Palenques and so artisanal and their cooking techniques are still using your earthen oven, but also allowing, depending on what type of ovens you’re using and also what type of wood you are using will impart different flavors into the agave as it’s cooking.

NB: Right, and it really adds a nice way of transmitting terroir like you’re talking about, both in the agaves that are used to make it and the cooking process. You might actually get some of that whatever wood they’re using, for example. It has a funny way of when it’s made in a traditional way of really transmitting that through to the final spirit.

CG: Yeah, that’s the beauty of also that complexity that lends itself with the production.

NB: Well, you know when you talk about wine a lot of times people are resistant to pair high alcohol wines with food, but you’re talking about where the alcohol can really be a strength in a sense because it can kind of affect the texture of it and also, just that strength can cut fattiness or richness in food as well.

CG: That’s where I feel like I’m drawn towards when it comes to like the real pairings. But regardless I mean you could have a beautiful Highlands Tequila … So, we’re talking about tequila and that has more citrus and kind of floral, citrus, fruit-forward notes. That could also be beautifully paired too with a refreshing ceviche or a nice mango or sorbet.

NB: I find with mezcal and tequila when you talk about [inaudible 00:25:46] strength without watering it down to a say 38% or 40%. I find, I’m not sure if you agree, but when they do come let’s say between 46% and 54% they actually tend to have kind of a smoother feel in a way, they have a richer texture, a fuller flavor, and for me, they go down smoother at a slightly higher proof.

CG: Yeah. Either it’s the right person who’s doing that distillation and they know what they’re doing.

NB: There’s that sweet spot of flavor.

CG: Yeah, then all right, all for it.

NB: Yeah.

CG: But I do feel yes, it’s fun to taste because sometimes your tasting the heat right on your palate and then you’re surprised oh, it’s warm, but it’s not heat. And then, it’s interesting cause then there could also be some tequilas that I may taste that have been diluted where on the palate immediately it feels soft but as it’s going down it’s hot, hot, hot.

NB: The important thing is to try as many as you can, learn as much as you can about it, and … Now, for people who are still a bit resistant to sipping straight tequila or mezcal with some food, what might be some let’s say entry-level cocktails that might still express the flavor that might lead them to wanting to try it straight later?

CG: Well, as we all know, one of the most popular cocktails in the world is a margarita so let’s just go with that. It’s always complimented the agave spirit by the citrus of your lime and your sweetener that you choose, if it’s your simple syrup or agave or an orange liquor and that salt is just a nice little wrapper. But, I also tend to find a lot of success with suggesting pineapple. Pineapple is such a complimentary ingredient next to any agave spirit if it’s the mezcal or even a Raicilla it really is just a nice bonding for the two.

Another way that I also find that is appreciated and people are really excited by it is just taking any classic cocktail and replacing it with an agave spirit.

NB: So, mezcal negroni, a mezcal old fashioned.

CG: Yes. I have not ever prepared a classic cocktail that did not taste absolutely wonderful replacing it with the spirit. To me, it just shows too that it is such a diverse … The agave spirits have such a diversity of flavors and characteristics.

NB: Well, and it shows both their ability to stand out when paired with a lot of different flavors, but it also shows their versatility that they align with a lot of flavors as well. When you talk about those kind of sweet, citric, nutty, pineapple, grapefruit, whatever you can extend that to food, so foods that might have the same elements in them are likely to pair well.

CG: Yeah, absolutely agreed with you.

NB: I wish you could see us now cause our eyes are sparkling like stars in the night just talking about mezcal and tequila so I’ve got to rush out tonight and pair an incredible mezcal with my … It’s kind of a hot summer night, maybe some grilled fish?

CG: Yes.

NB: We’ll see what happens. Well, thanks so much, Courtenay.

CG: Thank you. Thank you.

Adam Vavrick: I’m Adam Vavrick, Beer Director for the Publican, Publican Anchor, Publican Tavern at O’Hare, and Publican Quality Meats in Chicago, Illinois.

NB: How do you remember all that?

AV: I don’t know, considering how much I drink.

NB: That’s right. So, we’re talking about pairing beverages with food. Unfortunately, a lot of people still think in terms of wine and food pairing. You’re the Beer Director for the Publican. What does that entail exactly?

AV: I do all the beer programming so I’m the one that’s selecting what the list is, making sure that everything is executed properly, doing glass pours, cellarmanship at Anchor involving cask ales, doing somewhat more public-friendly stuff at Tavern at O’Hare, and just being the overall beer guy. They hired me cause I’m something of like a beer raconteur. I’m the storyteller but I got my chops behind me to do it.

NB: And part of that is talking about the story of how well beer pairs with the food.

AV: Absolutely. Beer and food is something I’ve been a big fan of for many years. Being in beer for a decade, I’ve done plenty of beer and food pairings, both professionally and for fun. Beer has … Randy Mosher is a big fan of saying that beer has the one thing that wine doesn’t when it comes to food pairings, which is carbonation, and those bubbles of CO2 or carbon dioxide give you an almost like scrubbing bubbles kind of effect where it cleanses the palate after each bite.

So, you can do things with beer and food that you cannot do with wine and food. And as much as I enjoy wine and food, as much as I enjoy a really good Cab Franc with a steak there’s just so many other pairings out there that work really well. And really, most sommelier and people that really enjoy wine will be totally honest about the blind spots that wine has with beer. Honestly, the credit to wine is that when it does work it’s one of those … It’s like an epiphany kind of moment where your brain explodes and you go, “Holy crap! This is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever had.”

I have this wonderful memory of having like a beautiful, fresh-made, shrimp ceviche with a Pinot Grigio that just blew up and it was just everything worked so beautifully; the lime worked with that fruit character in the Pinot and the tannin worked with the sharpness and the acidity from the tomato and the onion. It was just one of those things that just worked beautifully.

What I try to do with beer when I do beer pairings is I don’t need to do that every time, but what I do like to do rather than match intensity is really just show affinity. What I mean by that is I had a great experience the other day with a brewery owner from San Diego who happened to be in town and he did our tasting menu at Publican, which is where the chefs choose the entire thing. They’ll call audibles all the time so everything is out on the fly and it’s just really interesting stuff, and it makes my life a lot of fun to be able to pair that because I have 12 things on tap and I have a whole bottle of Eston.

Anyway, the dish at the time was this really interesting black sea bass poached in like a porcini and pork broth, and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Umami, umami, umami’ and you know it’s very easy to go with something like a Vienna Amber or whatever, something like Malti that you’d expect. I went with an Imperial Stout and specifically, an Imperial Stout from 2012 because yeast dies and that dead yeast gives you a very distinct soy and umami flavor that matched not only the earthiness and that kind of rich, savory character of the mushroom, but it also worked on the glaze itself on the fish. It blew him away and I had to take a bite, and it blew me away.

NB: Yeah, that sounds amazing.

AV: Not many people will pair an Imperial Stout with fish because you think fish you think delicate.

NB: Right.

AV: I like to describe this as my friend Steven, who’s a musician likes to say, ‘If there’s not a threat of catastrophic failure then it’s not a live show.’ I kind of come to the same conclusion when it comes to pairings; it’s how we learn and it’s how we grow and it’s the experience that matters.

NB: That’s an incredible attitude. What are some beer styles and foods that you think are great pairings? Does anything come to mind?

AV: Absolutely. Belgium beer is sort of the default just because of the complexity and usually the alcohol level. Two, three in you might not care as much. But, I’m a really big fan of Saison with most foods. Saison, you know the Farmhouse Ales, for those who don’t know, come out of the tradition of farmhands drinking beer as provision beer throughout the farming season. They’re usually a little bit spicy, but effervescent and generally clean. They might have a little bit of funk but it depends on the producer. They’re very food-friendly because the malt base is typically neutral, but neutral in the way a water cracker is neutral.

So, if you’re eating something that has that bread or like if you’ve got something on a fettunta or if you’ve got breadcrumbs on something or something that might be like fried and glutenous like it works. Saisons are kind of my … Saisons and Triples for that exact same reason are always my go to as a pairing.

What’s fun about beer is that generally you want to match intensities, but you can also match on opposites in a way that you can’t really do in wine. One of the common wine pairings is like red wine and chocolate. I like doing something that’s way lighter in character, something with acid to it like a Berliner Weisse or again, once of these Saisons that has carbonic acid from being so highly carbonated with chocolate because chocolate is very mouth-coating, even if it’s bitter you still have that ability to kind of wipe it clean at the end from that carbonation.

NB: It’s interesting because we talk a lot about texture with wine but really with beers it’s almost more pronounced and more important to think about in terms of pairing.

AV: Yeah, absolutely. And especially with the trend to have a lot more barrel aging and that adds vanilla, which adds a really interesting mouth feel from the oak, and you also get tannin depending on what was in there before, and you also can get tannin … A lot of people are using things like wine grapes and wine skins and so on. So you have a whole nother dimension that you get to work with when it comes to what that liquid actually feels like in your mouth, which I think is just fascinating and works very well from a culinary perspective.

NB: So, if we’re talking about more malt-forward beers versus more hops-forward beers, how would that affect what types of foods you might pair beer with?

AV: Again, the default is always you know you go culturally. If you think about something like a really rich, malty, Doppelbock obviously you’re gonna want to pair that with something like pork or something like that, or lamb or schnitzel, exactly. But, it can also be really fun in the dessert setting because a lot of desserts nowadays people are trying to make them a little bit more I don’t want to say light or less dense, but the flavor profile is more savory and comes from that culinary mindset.

So you look at something not necessarily like a crème brulee but something that has like something flambeed on there that mallard reaction, that browning of sugars is the exact same thing that’s happening in that Doppelbock, and so you have that burnt sugar character. And again, all you really need to do is to match that intensity, and that’s huge.

But, I like Doppelbocks with like a lemon meringue pie too because it literally is the opposite. That lemon meringue gives that bright acid and sort of light fluffiness that is completely opposite, but no less intense, of that dense, multi bready, Doppelbock that kind of matches that crust depending on how it’s done.

NB: What about these very strong, very hoppy; Quad, IPA, etc. do they have any hope with food?

AV: Oh, yeah, very much so. One of the classic and I mean this is straight out of the textbook of Randy, who I mentioned earlier, or Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn, again it’s intensities. Blue cheese is one of the biggest pairings for a Big Double IPA because it’s so citrusy and so bright that you’re kind of matching with funk and blue cheese, especially some of these really veiny, like chunky blues. They’re extraordinarily intense. You need something that can back that up.

NB: Right.

AV: And you also have alcohol, which alcohol kind of brings this interesting heat to whatever you’re doing and carbonation cuts right through the creaminess, so you have that balance there. I’ll go on record, I’m not the biggest fan of blue cheese honestly, but in the right scenario those things can work very well together.

NB: Yeah, that sounds incredible. Well, thanks, Adam. Thanks for hanging out with us today.

AV: Definitely. Thanks for having me on.

Speaker 1: This podcast is produced by Larj Media, L-A-R-J Media.

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