Search & Distill: A More Perfect Potluck

Tips on pairing beer with food. (Pretty much anything goes with anything.)

Wine geeks have been advancing rules about which wines to pair with which foods since man learned to set a table. Beer insiders try to do the same, and start by categorizing different styles of beer in terms of whether they more resemble red or white wines. The lighter lager family, they say, stands in for white wine, while heartier, richer ales get compared to reds. These (over-) generalizations are a safe place to start, but any attempt to carry over a wine-pairing rule—such as serving lagers only with white meat or fish—would oversimplify the game and exclude some remarkable matchups. Furthermore, just as you don't have to have red wine with your lamb, you don't always need a hearty ale this time of year. In general, lager-style beers and our local IPAs are more versatile with food than wine is, and can match well with the entire breadth of fall's eating habits.Lagers (which include pilsners and German-style bocks) tend to have lower alcohol content than ales, just as white wines do compared to most reds. However, these beers are much more easygoing with food than wine is—at least, they're less likely to taste shrill in a mismatch. The reason is the backbone of malt that kicks in as a foil to the hops; it smoothes out rough edges in a way an acidic white can't.Americans are conditioned toward lagers like Corona, Tecate, and the Bud-Coors-Miller family. Like white wines, we often drink them solo. Unlike white wine, we also drink them mostly by the six-pack, with hodgepodge from the fridge or the usual TV-dinner suspects like pepperoni pizza. When you've roasted a chicken, bought a preroasted bird, or gone on a pho run, upgrade to a better, local version of blonde with a bottle of Skagit River's Dutch Girl Lager, new to distribution and rare around town but a regular item at the Roosevelt Whole Foods.For rich soups and other winter porridge fare, go for something a little maltier, like an Oktoberfest, a Helles, or another richer-colored German-style lager, which makes sense when you think of the barley in a beef stew or French onion soup. And for even richer fall foods like mushroom risotto and cassoulet, consider one of beer's greatest gifts to food: the schwarzbier, a dark-brown lager that looks like a porter but only has the muted character of roasted or dark malt and very little bitterness. Schwarzbiers have enough bang to pair with a juicy burger or anything charred on the grill, but are light enough to not impede your feast. Baron's Schwarzbier is available in 22-ounce bottles, with decent distribution around town.The Northwest IPA, though classified as an ale, is the ultimate white wine of beer, as bold as an assertive sauvignon blanc and as palate-cleansing as the raciest bottle of bubbles. Think of the sauvignon blanc's often pronounced grassy notes, compared to the intensely tea-like, herbal character of hops. An IPA's bitter finish works as a wine's sharp acidity does, scouring the tongue for whatever comes next. However, in the mouth, an IPA has a weight that many white wines don't, which goes so well with fleshier, sweeter fish and critters like mussels and crab. Diamond Knot's IPA, available at select PCC stores, even has a distinct grapefruit note that makes it sing with seafood, and the Silver City Indianola Pale Ale, a newer find in your local grocer's beer section, plain knocks you out with the clean aroma of fresh hops. It may be even better suited to a piece of salmon than fresh dill is.The bonus to choosing beer over white wine: A 22-ounce bottle of any of the above—almost the size of a bottle of wine—will only set you back around $4, meaning it's not just easier to play with beer and food, it's a hell of a lot

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