Gwen Conley is teaching the Food Pairings and Beer Dinners class in UCSD Extension’s Brewing Program and she is helping students find their “paring passion.” Paring passion is that moment when food and beer meet to create something unexpected, enhancing elements of both food and beer. Gwen led us on an exploration of paring, packing the three lectures that make up this one-unit elective with food and wonderful beer.
The Food Pairing class is a perfect complement to the Sensory Evaluation class also taught by Gwen. While Sensory Evaluation goes deeply into the flavor profile of beer styles, Food Pairing and Beer Dinners draws on that knowledge of how to break down the basic elements of a beer’s flavor profile to match the beer’s tastes and aromas with food. I am not a chef and much prefer fermenting things to cooking them so I felt intimidated at the thought of pairing a beer with an entire meal, but Gwen focused on simple pairings that showed how basic tastes interact. During our first lecture we reviewed the basic tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami – and their potential interactions. We learned how to create a relationship between beer and food using the concepts of cut, complement, and contrast. We discussed how the texture, sound, and temperature of food can affect our perceptions of the beer pairing. Beer was paired with carrot juice and a raw carrot to see how our perceptions of flavor change with different textures. We looked at how the fat and sourness of a lemon cookie complemented the biscuit malt characteristic of The Lost Abbey’s Avant Guarde. Although these pairings are not a glamorous multicourse dinner – and believe me, the carrot juice one was a little rough – they taught us how basic flavors interact and helped us to the build a foundation of pairing knowledge.
My favorite piece of information from this class is that carbon dioxide, bitterness, and high alcohol can intensify spiciness by spreading the capsaicin around the mouth and opening up the pores. Using this new pairing knowledge, I invited some of my spicy food loving friends over and served a jalapeño burger with a double IPA, matching the intensity of the burger with an incredibly hoppy beer. My friends were shocked at the increased spiciness. I did have a sweet porter on hand for those who didn’t like the pairing because we also learned that “sweet kills heat.”
The final class was an experience I wish every beer lover could have: it involved eight different cheeses, eight different types of chocolate, and thirteen different beers. Gwen talked us through the pairings and left the class to play in the beer and food sensory playground. Some people exclaimed with joy when they found their pairing passion while others groaned when they found a pairing “train wreck.” Although there are basic guidelines to pairing everyone is different and no pairing will reach 100% of the people in the audience, so have fun and find your pairing passion and experiment. If you are interested in reading more about beer and food pairing Gwen recommend the book “The Brewmaster’s Table” by Garrett Oliver. Here are three beer and cheese pairings from the class I would suggest trying:
- Asiago Cheese with The Lost Abbey’s Inferno (Belgian Strong Ale)
- English Cheddar with Chiles and Spices with The Lost Abbey’s Judgment Day (Quad)
- Manchego with the Lost Abbey’s Lost and Found (Abbey Dubbel)
Food Pairings and Beer Dinners, Gwen Conley, The Lost Abbey