Happy New Beers Day!
At 12:01 a.m. Eastern April 7, 1933 the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect. One of the very first acts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this act allowed the return of legal beer sales in America, and marked the beginning of the end for Prohibition, although that national embarrassment would not be officially over for months, and remnants, unbelievably, still remain today.
Besides sounding the death knell for a very bad experiment in moral social engineering, it was also a brilliant economic strategy by FDR. The country was in the grip of the Great Depression and the addition of over 50,000 jobs in breweries, not to mention related industries, was a huge boost for the people of this country. The $7.5 million dollars in tax revenue generated in a single day didn’t hurt the economy, either. Plus there was beer again. Beer is good.
In honor of this event, today’s post will be all about beer instead of wine.
One of the oldest and most popular drinks on the planet, beer is made with just a few simple ingredients. Water, malted grain, hops and yeast. Despite the limited number of ingredients required, there seems to be no limit to the different flavors that can be extracted.
Brewing is quite a simple process, as well. Grain, usually barley, is mashed (malted) to cause the sugars to simplify to facilitate extraction and the fermentation process. The resulting malted grains are steeped to extract these natural sugars and then the resulting product, known as wort, is further heated to both sterilize the mixture and concentrate the sugars.
Hops are added at different times for flavor and bitterness. The length of time that they are boiled and the point at which they are added determines what effect they have on the flavor. Hops were originally added as a preservative, but are now primarily used for flavor.
Once the wort cools to a temperature that will support its growth, yeast is added. Yeast feeds on the sugars and converts them to alcohol while adding both more flavor and carbonation. At this point, we have beer.
As a beverage beer equals, some would say that even surpasses, wine as an accompaniment for food. Just as certain wines work best with certain foods, so beers should be paired with the right foods. Covering all of the aspects of beer and food pairings is well beyond the scope of this article, but I will try and cover some basics.
Just like with wine, you don’t want your beer to overpower your food, or vice versa. Just as most folks would be unlikely to drink a full-bodied Cabernet with a plate of raw oysters, something like a Wee Heavy would also be a poor match. Something light and refreshing, such as good Mexican brew with a slice of lime, or a wheat beer would go very well with oysters.
Try and think of beers as you would wines. Do you need something with a lot of body or something crisp and light? Will your food be enhanced by the malty sweetness of an Irish ale, or would the crisp, citrusy bite of a hoppy India Pale Ale be better?
Typically, as with wine, consider your sauce more than what it goes on. A simple roasted chicken is going to need a different beer than one grilled and covered with BBQ sauce. Many times creating a sauce from the same beer that you will be drinking makes for a perfect pairing. Also as with wine, the only way to learn to pair is to taste the beers and develop a mental storehouse of flavor profiles and to experiment with how they interact with food. However, to help you get started, here are some great match-ups using beers that have wide distributions that I like a lot:
Asian style salad – Stone IPA. The bitterness of the greens, the citrus in the mandarin oranges, and the toasted flavors of the sesame oil match perfectly with this beer.
Mexican food – No surpises here. Dos Equis or Negra Modella (or Especial) are perfect matches. Corona isn’t fit for human consumption, however. Don’t cook with it, don’t feed it to your dogs, don’t even let it come in contact with bare skin.
Beef stew – Guinness or Murphy’s Irish Stout. If you use the same beer in the stew as you are drinking you can easily reach culinary nirvana.
Cajun crawfish – Newcastle Brown. The natural choice, and it is a good one, is an Abita. However, I once lucked into washing down a pile of steaming mud bugs with a Newcastle or two. It was fantastic.
Pizza – Beer. Hard to screw this up.
One more thing; many people love to deride American beer. These people are to be avoided, they know nothing. These are the same people who won’t drink a Merlot because they saw “Sideways” and now consider themselves wine experts. America makes some of the finest beer in the world. Granted, we make some bad beer, as well. An easy rule of thumb to avoid the bad stuff is to never buy beer from any American brewery bigger than Sam Adams. Those big guys make some very generic, watery beer and the hops they use tend to leave a detergent-like finish. Not good beer.
Happy New Beer Day!