Seriously, though, Doppelbock goes with pretty much everything I cook so I've been trying to keep it on hand.
Getting more experience with pairing beer and food and talking about it was specific feedback I received the first time I took the Advanced Cicerone exam. Since then, I've been making more of an effort to make time to think through my meals and make a list of beer styles that may pair well with them.
Because I have not practiced formal beer and food pairing - I say "formal" because I am very good at informally drinking beer with food - very much, I'm not very intuitive with my pairing knowledge. I am, however, developing a rudimentary foundation for pairings that I can suggest when someone asks what sort of beer he or she should be drinking with a meal. Although it sounds somewhat sophisticated, I mostly suggest Saisons and Tripels since they tend to have more complex profiles that match a variety of foods and high carbonation that can scrub your palate.
My process for planning a pairing now consists of listing the major components of the meal I am making and then matching two to three beer styles with each component.
Here's an example:
Porcini Mushroom Linguine with Shiitake Mushroom & Gorgonzola Sauce
- Mushrooms (porcini and shiitake): Doppelbock, Dunkel, Dubbel, British Brown Ale, Scotch Ale
- Cheese/Cream-based Sauce & Pasta: Tripel, Biere de Garde, Doppelbock
with Shiitake Mushrooms & Gorgonzola Sauce
(Also I am not a talented food photographer)
For this meal, I chose to pair the dish with a Doppelbock, a Tripel, and an IPA. I pour each beer into a tasting glass, so there are approximately 3-4 ounces of each style of beer. Looking back, I did not take good notes, so I'm not sure where I got the IPA idea, but I'm not confident enough to go rogue at this point, so I must have read that it would match the dish in one of my books. In the end, (surprise!) the Doppelbock won as the best pairing with the dish, with the Tripel being a very close second.
SN: I mainly use The Brewmasters Table by Garrett Oliver because it has a fantastic list in the appendix of beer styles to pair with different food styles. It is not exhaustive, but it is extremely helpful. I also use Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley, which you may recall is one of my favorite beer books.
I haven't run into a situation yet where the components are all so different that they don't share even one beer style, which is not surprising when you think about it. After all, the virtue of whatever dish I'm making is that the individual ingredients taste good when you cook them into one dish - I'm not making toothpaste and orange juice casserole.
Going through the process of writing down each component and then compatible beer styles has been extremely helpful in learning which beer styles (Doppelbock) generally will go with each component and then synthesizing those beer styles into three samples to try with each dish. I typically do three samples per dish for a couple reasons. One, I usually choose very different beer styles for each dish, so the flavor experience with each pairing is different. Two, there is usually one clear winner with each dish and one clear loser. It's important to evaluate the "losing" beer (I mean, it still gets to be beer, so that's a pretty sweet existence) to understand why it doesn't work as well as the other beers.
I've also learned that almost every dish I make falls into this formula:
Carb (bread, pasta, tortilla) + Cheese + Tomato-based sauce = the bulk of my diet
So maybe that's why everything I make pairs with Doppelbock.
Also, pairing beer with food doesn't have to be as much of a process every time - sometimes it's just taking a second to think about your meal and grabbing a beer that will pair well with it.
Bread + Cheese + Tomato-Based Sauce
With Doppelbock, naturally
If you're interested in learning more about pairing beer with food, then I highly recommend getting The Brewmasters Table and Beer Pairing. There are a ton of beer and food pairing books out there, but I've found many of them to be kitschy and not focused on thoroughly explaining why the beer and food pairings work, which both of these books do. Beer Pairing also lays out specific pairings that will teach you the difference between pairings that work and pairings that don't, as well as provides easy reference charts for things such as beer and cheese pairings.