Perhaps there’s no holiday more closely associated with the consumption of beer than St. Patrick’s Day. Too often, however, the beer consumed is of a quality not worthy of the patron saint of Ireland.
In honor of Saint Patrick, we thought we’d go beyond watered-down green beer and get some tips for matching strong beer with hearty Irish food, as well as some general ‘rules of thumb’ for successful beer pairing.
I talked with Julia Herz, a beer sommelier (the official term is Cicerone) who also directs the Craft Beer Program at the Brewers Association. Here are her suggestions for combining Irish dishes and craft beer.
Traditional St. Patrick’s Day Beer
“Two old world beer styles are usually a part of many peoples’ celebrations: Dry Stout, the very sessional 4.5% ABV on average, is dark, roasted, creamy ale. Also Irish Red Ale, known for being malt focused, which can be lager or ale yeast fermented. It tastes like buttered toast kissed with caramel and is very low hopped with a dry roasted finish. Both of these beer styles are great to pair with traditional St. Patrick’s Day foods, but then again we should always consider venturing beyond the norm as well as staying true to the basics….”
“No matter whether it’s mutton or lamb stew, it’s amazing paired and cooked with many different variations of stouts that complement the potatoes (which pick up many of the flavors of other ingredients), caramelized onions and carrots. This dish truly is a fine one for Irish Style Red Ales, because the caramel of the Irish Red complements so much of this dish.”
Corned Beef & Cabbage
“Go with brown ales or bock beers or, to contrast, try a more acidic beer style to calm down the salt (where the ‘corn’ in corned beef actually comes from, so I’ve read). Try the Berliner Weiss beer from Cambridge Brewing Company, or find some wild acidic craft beer that delivers lactic acidity.”
Irish Potato Candy
“Irish Potato Candy, with ingredients including coconut, butter, cinnamon and vanilla, begs for an American Strong Ale that’s been barrel-aged (okay, I’m taking liberties and straying slightly from the holiday theme) or a bock beer, which is a traditional German style lager that has many fine U.S. examples.”
For those, like myself, who are unfamiliar with Irish Potato Candy, here’s a primer from Cakespy on the confections, which contain no potatoes whatsoever.
Tips for Pairing Beer and Food
“I like to say craft beer is helping beer reclaim its place at the dinner table, with many more flavors and aromas advancing what light American lager offers. When you pair, you treat the beer as an ingredient to account for [in terms of] what it will add to the dish.
Match intensities. Don’t have the craft beer or the food overwhelm the other. Too rich a food will nullify the lighter beer styles. Too big a beer style, like a doppelbock or barley wine, will cancel out the food.
Keep in mind to pair not only the protein (what pairing wines taught us) but also the preparation of the food (grilled, roasted, baked or steamed?), plus the other ingredients on the plate.”