Beer & Food Pairing Hatred

There has been some real animosity towards the marriage of beer and food in the beer blogging world of late, or at least in one segment of it, and I must admit that I just don’t get it. At issue is a recent article by New York Times writer Eric Asimov about wishing that the quality of food in NYC beer joints would keep pace with the quality of the beer. I think it’s a quite reasoned commentary, and if you’ve ever suffered through an overcooked, previously frozen burger on a Wonder Bread bun while enjoying a pint of fine pale ale or pilsner, I’m guessing you’ll think the same.

So why the hatred? Why is it that, for some people, the mere thought of pairing beer and food in a mutually beneficial way is tantamount to treason towards the ways and traditions of good beer? Frankly, I just don’t get it.

Here’s what I think. If I’m down at the pub or corner bar with some friends enjoying a few pints of quality ale or lager and I get hungry, I’d like to be able to satisfy my hunger with a decent morsel of food, whether a moist and flavourful sausage, a plate of good nachos or a burger that is less than a week old. And if I’m at a fine dining restaurant, I wouldn’t mind the option of a quality stout to enjoy alongside my plate of Malpeque oysters or a sweet and fruity Belgian style golden ale to complement my foie gras au torchon.

In neither case do I feel I’d be doing a disservice to beer. On the contrary, I think that either instance would be elevating the taste of the beers in question by pairing them with quality, compatible foods.

Note that nowhere am I suggesting that beer should only go with the foie and oysters, or that crap nachos are okay for eating with beer because, after all, it’s only beer. That, I think, would be doing a disservice to beer, and a pretty great one, at that.

Honestly, I can’t see why anyone with tastebuds would think otherwise.

15 Replies to “Beer & Food Pairing Hatred”

  1. Something about drinking beer always makes want to have something to snack on.

    Here in Austin, there is restaurant/brewery called NXNW that hosts a Brewer’s Dinner, a multiple course meal with beers to complement and enhance the food. It’s only around $60.

    I’ve never been, but I’m on the mailing list to find out about the next one because they apparently fill up quickly. Maybe these bloggers complaining about pairing beer and food should check it out.

    1. Are you suggesting, Alan, that $60 for a multiple course meal including drinks is expensive? Because if so, I’d like to know where you’re usually dining.

      Even at a casual service chain restaurant, three courses plus a couple of pints, tax and tip is going to push the bill up into the $50 to $60 range at least.

  2. I am suggesting that using that as a method of appreciating good beer is about as necessary as ensuring we all wear scuba suits as we do. And I usually dine at home… and dine well. Easier on the kids and the family budget.

    I am, however, mainly giving you the gears. I actually do not have much of an issue with the food and beer thing. My problem is making is a primary focus of craft beer promotion. And before you give me the gears for giving you the gears please note that in your post of July 23, 2009 at 10:37 AM you ascribed hatred to me. I am generally particularly sweet mid-morning and reserve my hatred for issues of injustice.

    I know you know that. But I am still giving you the gear. 😉

    1. I don’t think anyone ever suggested making it a “primary focus.” A part, yes, perhaps an important part at times, but surely not the be all and end all of craft beer appreciation.

      My position has always been that: a) When I eat, I like to eat decent food, including those occasions when I’m in a bar or pub enjoying good beer; and b) Beer and food pairing can be not only quite delicious — greater then the sum of its parts, even — but also a great way to introduce “newbies” to the great wide world of beer with flavours. And I’ve never understood why you feel the need to argue with that. Maybe it has something to do with you being a lawyer, albeit a sweet one.

  3. “…a great way to introduce “newbies” to the great wide world of beer with flavours…. feel the need to argue with that…”

    I honestly do not believe I have ever argued with that idea that it is either a useful educational tool and even a great experience. But I do make a distinction between fine food + craft beer is a great experience even for the newbie who is an existing fine food fan and, on the other hand, the primary route for attracting new craft beer customers – especially those who are not fine food fans. I disagree with the showcasing of craft beer though fine food as a marketing tool simply because it will turn off many people (because of taste or budget or sheer swank) who can be turned on to fine beer in itself it that is the more appropriate way to speak to that person. Most of the people I have turned on to beer beer are not foodies even though I am. One is even scared of celery. But he now drinks Allagash White.

    Bottom line: we shouldn’t teach two lessons to someone (fine food + fine beer) in order to teach them the one we are interested in – that fine beer is great in itself.

  4. There you go again, Alan: “the primary route.” Beer and food pairing is an option that will appeal to some people and not to others. A grotty bar with good beer and soggy nachos is an option that will no doubt also appeal to some and not others. You take what you want and I’ll do the same.

    I see no reason why we can’t all get along here. After all, beer dinners — even at far more than $60 a seat — have proved to be tremendously popular. That’s why people keep holding them.

  5. I started this all by saying we weren’t disagreeing!

    But you are right. I am concerned that there is too much focus on beer and fine food in the discourse and you are concerned that the opportunity has not been fully elaborated. We both personally like fine food and beer but I do not practically speaking have the access to it outside of the home (for example, we picked up a fourth kid yesterday – we foster) and you have wonderful access to it through your job and your passion.

    This has been useful so thanks for bearing with me. I think I am working towards a unified theory of beer and pleasure. This may be obvious (no one said I was bright) but is not really the focus of the overall discourse. It should be.

  6. “…a unified theory of beer and pleasure.”

    Good luck, my friend.

    (I have nothing significant to add here, but just don’t want you to get the last word in on my blog.)

  7. “I wouldn’t mind the option of a quality stout to enjoy alongside my plate of Malpeque oysters or a sweet and fruity Belgian style golden ale to complement my foie gras au torchon.”

    Isn’t a drinks writer talking about eating “fatty liver” (foie gras) with his beer a little bit ironic? Maybe you should think about how they torture the duck/goose the next time you want to sup your cirrhosis organ with your badly infected ale.

    1. A little unsolicited advice, Dave, I don’t think that slamming foie and drinking in one breath is really the best way to get your point across. And as for that “torture” of which you speak, I’ve seen foie gras farmed in Quebec and the geese and ducks actually race over to be fed when they hear the sound of the equipment getting ready.

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