Beer: The new wine

Beer: The new wine

Beer: it's what's for dinner (Photo by Tambako the Jaguar)

Forget the chardonnay—beer is Toronto’s new dining partner. We’ve been watching the beer-pairing trend since it popped up over a year ago, with aficionados telling the world that hoppy brews are complex enough to replace wine at meals. Beer’s appeal got a serious boost from the downturn, when pint pairing suddenly made good economic sense. Now, with patio season just around the corner, we took part in a pairing seminar to get the skinny on the craze. Here, some expert tips for the ale sommelier in training.

Most people chug a draft in hearty gulps, but Lisa Duizer, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph, teaches beer buffs to approach the drink as they would wine—slowly, and with all five senses. Hold a beer up to the light, she says: colour gives preliminary hints on flavour, and smell (perhaps reminding us of a summer day al fresco) speaks to the brew’s makeup. Though it’s hard to imagine diners sniffing and swirling a pint of amber at Canoe, Duizer assures us that these steps are essential to developing the full experience required for successful pairing.

Hops to it: Lisa Duizer explains the finer points of beer tasting

When considering a taste combination, Duizer urges judiciousness. “Be analytical,” she says. “We don’t care if you like it or not.” She encourages drinkers to exhale after sipping in order to pick up the scent of complex flavours. For a glass just poured, listen for carbonation to learn about effervescence levels. When pairing, pay attention to temperature and timing, because both affect taste. Ice cold beer is a great sell on a summer day, but the optimal temperature is less chilly; flavour is dulled by excess heat or cold. Beer also gets sweeter the longer it sits.

Taps magazine beer expert Mirella Amato takes a less scientific approach. No stickler for rules, she looks for the “yum factor”—when food and drink marry seamlessly to enhance each other without overshadowing. She notes that lighter wheat beers work best with fish, given the citrus undertone; here we’re given the spicy, orange peel–infused Rickard’s White with grilled shrimp. For a rich and earthy hazelnut and portobello mushroom cake, she suggests the full-bodied, caramelly Rickard’s Red; darker beers work well with rich foods, and the carbonation cuts heavy fare.

So whether using the more alchemical approach or the yum metric, the lesson here is that beer deserves more respect—and careful sipping skills—for the impending summer patio-fest. Bottoms up (but slowly)!