I love the idea of restaurants offering beer pairings with their tasting menus. Or so I always think until my paired beer arrives.
Dedicated gastropubs, such as Meddlesome Moth, do a fantastic job of matching food and ale. But I've lately had some horribly botched pairings at restaurants accustomed to working with wine, including an impossible-to-finish saison and prosciutto duo that tasted odd and oily.
So I called Brad Farbstein, owner of Blanco's Real Ale Brewing Co., to find out why so many well-intentioned beer pairings go awry. Farbstein's in town today for a Texas Harvest beer dinner at Five Sixty.
"I agree, there's been some that have been really kind of off the mark," Farbstein says of the beer pairings some restaurants are rolling out to prove they're hip to beverage trends. To make a pairing work, Farbstein says, "You have to know both the food and the beer."
As Farbstein explains, there's a tremendous diversity in beers: While one IPA might be the perfect foil for a plate of pesto ravioli, another IPA could spoil the dish. That's rarely the case with wine, he says.
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"With a Cabernet or a Pinot Noir or a Zinfandel, they all have similar flavor profiles," Farbstein says, allowing that wine connoisseurs might fiercely dispute his assessment. "With beer, there's a significantly wider range of flavors. It seems like there's a lot more opportunity to pair beer than wine."
And a greater opportunity, he concedes, to really screw things up.
Farbstein prefers pairings in which the food and beer contrast rather than match: At tonight's dinner, he's planning to pour a brown ale with short ribs and a barley beer with dessert.
"I think it really takes a pretty trained person to understand the dynamics of beer," he says. "You have to do some experimentation. It's tough work, but someone's got to do it."