Here are a few tips from a recent interview with Jeff Bearer of Craft Beer Radio – and if you have 30 minutes, you can listen to the entire podcast here.
Start with a beer in good condition, one that you’d enjoy drinking solo. If you like the taste of it in a glass, chances are you’ll enjoy the flavors in the finished dish.
Treat craft beer with respect – if you boil it vigorously, the flavors will change as the beer reduces, growing more intensely bitter. Use very hoppy ales in marinades and vinaigrettes which are left uncooked, for the truest flavor to the original. Otherwise, add alternative sweeteners, such as barley malt extract.
Since beer is really a “liquid flavor” when cooking with it, consider using thickeners to convey the tastes. Chef Nathan Berg of Native Bay uses unflavored gelatin to make a savory jelly with craft ales – I tasted the Central Waters Elder Weiss made into a jelly presented with candied hickory nuts – it melted in the mouth with a delicate tang of hops and made the nuts taste all the sweeter.
Though I don’t think it’s necessary to cook every dish served in a beer dinner with beer as an ingredient, I do think it is a good example of a classic pairing technique called “bridging.” A bridge is a garnish or ingredient or other flavor elements that meld together from the food, to the drink, to the palate. You can use the flavors of beer as a bridge or you can use foodstuffs. For example, to bring out the nuttiness in a brown ale, you could present a pilaf topped with toasted pecans, or to highlight Chinook hops, you could garnish a salad with slivers of fresh grapefruit. It’s a simple but effective tool in creating pairings with harmonious flavors.