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In theory, wine is comprised of a single ingredient: grapes. Even so, tasting it—let alone pairing it with food—requires a lifetime’s worth of expertise, as any trained sommelier will tell you.
But beer is a different animal entirely. With a minimum of four ingredients (grain, hops, yeast, and water), and an infinite list of potential flavoring agents, beer offers an incomparably broad range of tastes and textures, which makes pairing it with food even more of a challenge. While that breadth can be daunting, it’s also what makes the pairing process so much fun.
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If anyone knows this to be true, it’s the Corner Office‘s executive chef Rich Byers. Byers is the mastermind behind the Corner Office’s monthly Brewer’s Brunch, a ticketed event in which he pairs cuisine with beer from a local brewer (past participating breweries have included Odell, Great Divide, and Avery). In advance of June’s beer brunch, which features Ratio Beerworks, Byers gave us a few tips on how to achieve the perfect match.
Step One: Sip First
If you’re not sure where to begin, start with the beer, not the food. Byers suggests simply going for the beer you like to drink and then identifying what you taste in it. Is the beer sour? Bitter? Sweet? Is it thick, rich, or light? Would it cut spice or amplify it? Would it complement meat or go down smoothly with dessert?
Now that you know what you’re drinking, it’s time to decide on the food. If that fiercely hoppy IPA reminds you of bitter melon or dandelion greens, great. But together, all those bitter flavors might exhaust your palate. Instead, Byers recommends matching different flavors: A hop-forward IPA will hold its own alongside a meaty, savory green chile cheese burger, and a bright, salty gose is perfect for washing down a rich, creamy curry.
Go for the Obvious
For a simple approach, try picking up a few flavor-infused craft beers and pairing them with familiar foods. For example: Match a beet-infused saison with a fresh and creamy goat cheese salad, or a ginger-spiced ale with savory Thai drunken noodles. Pro tip: Keep an eye on your favorite brewery’s special releases, which are often infused with seasonal ingredients.
Cook With It
Byers likes to cook with his beer pairings whenever possible to accentuate the brew’s unique flavors. His advice? Substitute a light, Pilsner-style beer anywhere you would use stock or water. Right now, the chef is tinkering with rice steamed in light beer. (Prognosis: It works!) Enrich brisket by braising it with a pale ale, ladle up an indulgent craft beer cheese soup, or go for a local spin on a classic beer-battered cod or haddock for fish and chips. (For course two at the upcoming Ratio Beerworks brunch, Byers is battering fish in Ratio’s Domestica American Ale.) Incorporating your favorite brew in the food itself means you won’t have to look too far for a beer to sip alongside your meal (hint: It’s the beer you cooked with).
Yes, we just told you to cook with beer, but when it comes to IPA’s, there are rules. Wisconsin bratwurst cooked in a golden ale? Great idea. Simmering bratwurst in a hop-forward IPA? Not so much. The flavors in the IPA will intensify as the liquid cooks down, and the hops’ bitterness will become overpowering. If you love IPA’s, don’t fret: You can still cook with your favorite bitter beer. The key is to add only a touch at the very end of cooking. Byers’ finishes his rich, cheddar-y grits with just a dash of Ratio’s Antidote IPA. “It takes on the flavor of the beer pretty quickly,” he says. Bear in mind the old adage: a dot is a lot.
Mix It Up
If you want to try your hand at hosting a beer-paired event, brunch is a great way to showcase a variety of the Mile High City’s finest craft brews. Byers prefers pairing beers with the midday meal because it allows for such a diverse selection of fare. Byers’ upcoming Ratio brunch menu includes everything from Buffalo-style deviled eggs with a Belgian white ale to a chocolate cinnamon bun (drizzled with hop and raspberry icing) with Hold Steady chocolate-rye scotch ale.
1401 Curtis St., 303-825-6500