With word that Gourmet magazine recently co-hosted with a leading American brewer a five-course beer-pairing luncheon in their private dining room at the Condé Nast Building in New York, there is no longer any question: The beer dinner has come of age in America.
Such news, naturally enough, will lead some to want to capitalize on this newfound popularity and host dinners of their own, and were it as simple as presenting a selection of ales and lagers alongside an array of dishes from appetizer to dessert, no doubt we would be seeing many more of these events than we already are. But like their wine-focused kin, beer dinners require a little thought.
To begin planning your beer dinner, it can be helpful to pick a theme, which may be either beer-led, as with an all-Belgian beer dinner or a meal designed to highlight a specific style, or favoring the cuisine first and finding the beers to suit. Or you may wish to work with the beers of a specific brewer, in which case it’s advisable to either select the broadest range of styles the brewery produces, or invite a second brewery to also participate, thus assuring that your patrons will experience the greatest variety of beer and food pairings possible.
Next comes the order in which the beers are presented. Ordinarily, this should progress from lighter-bodied to fuller beers and less to more alcoholic, although some brews, like particularly sweet fruit beers, will beg placement at the end of the meal no matter what their strength. Be conscious, too, of positioning a forcefully hoppy beer, like an IPA, in front of a maltier, less assertive brew, such as a pale bock, since the lingering bitterness the first beer can leave on the palate will upset the balance of the second.
Once your theme and order has been chosen, it’s time to break out the beers and start tasting, preferably alongside your chef and a few of the kitchen crew. While sampling, think of flavor affinities between beer and food. A rich and malty porter might make you think of chocolate, for example, or a light pilsner could cast your palate towards a piece of whitefish accented with lemon and parsley. Don’t be afraid to whip up mini portions to try alongside the beer. If working with a brewery, be sure to sample any suggested pairings its reps may offer before you serve them to your customers, since even many brewery folk are discovering only now the pleasures of beer and food pairing and so they may be insightful.
Finally, when the time comes to execute your dinner, resist the temptation to serve a whole bottle or pint with each course and instead limit servings to five or six ounces at a time, using wine glasses for service, if you wish. You can always send servers around with top-ups for those who want them, and this way you’ll avoid both accidental over-imbibing and patrons filling up long before the final course is served.