Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley is a book about, unsurprisingly, pairing beer and food. Beer Pairing walks its readers through the basics of beer, perception, and tasting, and then moves onto providing detailed instructions for which beers pair the best with which foods and why.
The “why” part of pairing beer and foods is my favorite part of this book, although the beautiful pictures are probably a close second. Beer pairing is an area in which I am eager to gain more knowledge and experience, and Beer Pairing provides me with a great roadmap for learning about basic pairings as well as eventually experimenting with more complex pairings. Beer Pairing is definitely one of those books where I kept thinking, “I’ll just read one more section and then put it down,” but I found that very hard to do.
Prior to reading Beer Pairing, my beer and food education was limited to pretty much the pairing chapter in Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher, which gives a great overview but obviously not the depth of information you can find in Beer Pairing. If you’ve read my blog post about the beer pairing I did with The Naked Pig, then you also know that Beer Pairing came in incredibly handy when it came time to plan what beers I would select to pair with the meats The Naked Pig was preparing.
The first thing I tried from the book was adding salt to my morning coffee to cut the bitterness of the coffee. If you follow me on Instagram, you may remember my pictures waxing rhapsodic about how eye-opening that experience was. If you haven’t tried adding salt to your coffee yet, I highly recommend you do so. The salt cuts the bitterness of the coffee so that the coffee’s other flavors, like chocolate and nuttiness, shine through. A delicate touch is required, though – one morning I got a little too overzealous with my salting and ended up with undrinkable salt coffee.
Being a vegetarian*, I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more vegetarian-friendly pairing suggestions, particularly since one of the authors, Gwen Conley, is a vegetarian. However, the book contained enough detailed information about why certain beer and food ingredients pair well together that I’ll be able to cobble together some strong pairings using similar elements found in vegetarian dishes. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll see a beer and vegetarian food pairing book authored by yours truly because I’ve found the vegetarian segment to be largely overlooked when it comes to beer and food pairings. During a recent seminar I attended about beer and food pairings, a highly talented chef was preparing plates for a beer pairing while the brewer was speaking about beer and food pairings. My heart sank when I saw the roasted duck and red snapper come out because I would not be able to participate in the most important part of the seminar. It’s also common for me to miss out on what look to be really fun beer dinners because almost every dish has some sort of meat or fish included.
One thing in which I can partake that is described extremely well in Beer Pairing is beer and cheese pairings. I love cheese. Like so much. And this book does an awesome job of walking the reader through the different types of milk used to make cheese and why that’s an important thing to know as well as how to select beer and cheeses. The book even includes a very handy chart, which I used recently to organize my own beer and cheese pairing (stay tuned for an I Tried It about my beer and cheese pairing). There are so many other types of pairings described in the book that I can’t wait to try, from chocolate and ice cream to pizza and grilled cheese.
I will probably stick with somewhat basic pairings until I get a little more confident in my pairing skills before I start trying the big daddy: beer dinners. I’m definitely excited to plan and prepare a beer dinner, but find the actual execution to be an overwhelming and daunting challenge. However, Beer Pairing turns the overwhelming into the doable by explaining types of beer dinners and even laying out some menus as well as helpful tips for the actual execution.
Another feature of the book is interviews with experts in beer and food pairing realm, like Garrett Oliver (naturally) and Adam Dulye, the executive chef for the Brewers Association and CraftBeer.com. The interviews give insight into each person as well as their tips for successful beer and food pairings. The book also has “Geek Out” sections throughout that give the reader more insight into the subjects being discussed, like The Beer Clean Glass and Serving Sizes.
Overall, Beer Pairing is definitely worth a read (or two or three). In fact, my copy already has several dog-eared pages because I’ve come to use it as a reference and a manual. One word of warning: do not try to read this book on an empty stomach because you will be starving (and thirsty) in no time after reading about the great beer and food pairings that you never thought of.
*Standard Questions Every Vegetarian Gets Asked By Everyone: I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12-years-old. I’m sure I had a noble, 12-year-old reason for doing so. No, I don’t eat fish. Yes, I eat cheese. Yes, I eat eggs but not usually by themselves because I don’t care for the taste. No, I’m not a vegan. Yes, my husband eats meat. No, I don’t cook it for him, but only because I don’t know how to cook meat well and he does, not because I judge him for eating meat. No, it doesn’t bother me when people eat meat in front of me. Also, I don’t need to hear how you could probably be a vegetarian because you “don’t really eat that much meat” – it’s a personal choice and I don’t care whether you eat meat or not.