When it comes to food and beverage pairing, most diners think of matching wine with their recipes. But, these days, the art of matching or contrasting the flavors of multi-dimensional craft beer with various foods is trendy and all the norm.
"We absolutely enjoy the pairing process," said Kevin Clark, brewmaster for Bulldog Brewing Co. in Whiting. Clark said he's working closely with the brewery's new chef Jillian Flathers as they collaborate on an updated brew pub menu.
"Jillian and I are looking at different beers and different styles of beer. You can do a lot of different things in the kitchen when you're pairing craft beers with recipes," Clark said.
In February, the brew pub's menu, he said, was redone to include more items with greater use of spices and other flavors that would pair well with the brewery's offerings.
Clark said spicier recipes as well as house-made pretzel bites served with a German-style spicy mustard do well matched with an IPA brew, which is a hoppier-style.
The brewmaster also recommends a Session IPA and an Industrial Harbor IPA for pairing with various red meats or hearty steaks. Burgers and steak sandwiches, he added, are also great matches for the IPAs.
During a recent preview event for the Blue Chip Casino's Brewfest, held in mid-April, Clark brought a few of his brews to pair with Blue Chip Executive Chef Patrick Higgins' dishes. An Oatmeal Stout, which was on the light side, was paired with Tiramisu cake while Robey Red matched to Buffalo wings and Downtime Wheat paired with California Spring Rolls.
"The Roby Red is a red rye ale and has a nice malty body with a little bit of spice," Clark explained. He said it holds up nicely to spicy dishes such as Buffalo chicken wings and Habanero shrimp.
Higgins crafted a variety of dishes for the Brewfest preview, which he said was a fascinating project.
"We worked with chefs from around the area and from the breweries and the brewmasters. It was a lot of fun," Higgins said.
According to Higgins, craft beers with a bit of lemon or orange zest flavoring, which are citrusy, work well with fish or various seafood while "heavy meat dishes" can handle a little Stout or Porter.
Among recipes Higgins crafted to pair with assorted brews were crispy pork bell sopes "Al Pastor" with quajillo chile cumin, pineapple mango or onion, cilantro-lime garnished jicama slaw, paired with Shoreline Brewery's Sum Nug IPA and seared/grilled duck breast matched to a Beltaine Scottish Ale. Also in the spotlight were brisket chili from Blue Chip's The Game paired with Greenbush' Anger- 7.6 percent Black IPA and a Chocolate Raspberry Espresso Cake to pair with Figure 8's Black Corridor Chocolate Imperial Stout. In addition, he created mac and cheese made with gorgonzola and Threadsplitter matched to Hunters Brewery's Threadsplitter IPA.
Brews from Burn 'Em, 18th Street, Twisted K8 and Crown Brewing were matched to tasty dishes from a hearty stew and mini pork belly burgers to tuna lettuce wraps, beer battered fish and a Reuben sandwich.
The food and drink experts said sometimes beer is overlooked when diners wish to pair a meal with a drink.
"But beer is something that matches with food even more than wine in some cases," said Mark Angeles, executive chef at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond. Angeles said there's a resurgence in beer now with people becoming interested in various types and they're also willing to experiment more with matching brews to various culinary flavors.
Horseshoe's bar Sixth Street offers a variety of brews and the fine dining Jack Binion's Steak House also offers a vast selection of libations.
Angeles said when planning beer dinners, sometimes it's good to change "the tempo of the beer" when introducing new courses.
"You might want to start with something softer and stay away from the bigger flavors," he said. Later on in the dinner, with richer foods showcased, heartier brews would work best. He said he'd suggest going with a wheat-flavored beer with seafood and for lamb, he'd opt for an IPA or Stout. Dessert would match well with a creme Stout or oatmeal Stout.
Vickie Clark, manager for Holiday Liquors in Cedar Lake, said the store's customers are interested in the pairing process and regularly ask for suggestions on what to serve with various beers.
"We have a variety of beers that go great with not only dinner (recipes) but also desserts," Clark said, about Holiday's offerings.
"Stella Artois, which is a Belgian style goes great with pasta and seafood," she said. In addition, various brews from Wells, she said, pair well with desserts. They include Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale and Banana Bread Beer. Holiday's Clark also said Voodoo Doughnut's Pretzel Raspberry Chocolate Ale is a good match for assorted sweets and desserts.
"We also pride ourselves on having gluten-free beer," Vickie Clark said, adding it's a great match for gluten-free foods.
For more information on beer and food pairing, visit brewersassociation.org or craftbeer.com.