Washington’s craft beer scene possesses some of the best suds in the nation and the state is cushy among its imposing Northwestern brewing brethren. With a total of 326 breweries, numbers seemingly ceaselessly in growth, the state’s vast selection of ales and lagers, experimental brews and classics, cult favorites and new trends make it easy to have beer sans food, but it can become tricky when matching the right food with the desired beer, and vise versa.
For each type of beer, there are by-the-book and unorthodox pairings alike that will make selecting the right sipper for your next meal simpler. But don’t be too scared, pairing doesn’t need to be as arduous as it may seem.
“In general, when you’re pairing, you want to either match or contrast,” says Nick Crandall, innovation brewer at Redhook Brewery in Woodinville. “Do one of the two. Somewhere in the middle doesn’t really work as well.”
With that in mind, Crandall recently hosted a group at Seattle’s Pecado Bueno and showed how well Redhook’s American pale ale unusually pairs with a crispy cod-stuffed burrito. The beer’s hop character pushes a lot of flavor to the forefront without being too aggressive, allowing the subtle malt flavors and citrus profile to sync with the cod, contrasting the smooth and fresh flavor of the fish with a gentle, yet flavorful blast of bitter.
From the sea to something landlocked and boasting more cushion, juicy and unctuous pork chops are often a pairing match for most drinks. Few other duos works better than the contrast of rich fat and acid, and the fattiness found in the pig melds marvelously with a cold sour beer. The dazzling acidity cuts through the fat, giving a tangy beer ying to the succulent pork yang. With your next pork-chop grill sesh, pick up Fremont Brewing’s Sour Weisse, the third release from the Fremont Fermentation Lab where the brewery creates small-batch beers like this traditional and pleasant tart-filled sour.
When it comes to pairing beer with mollusks, specifically with the powerful yet delicate brininess of oysters, heavy toasted and bittersweet flavors of stouts do just the trick. In fact, it was such a good pair back in the day that brewers began making oyster stouts, taking the shells and throwing them in to the boil along with barley and hops to make a brew in its own category. For a friendly matching with fresh-shucked oysters, pour a pint of No-Li Brewhouse’s oyster stout, a flavorsome sip of chocolate and toasted grain all wrapped together with a salty brine from the south Puget Sound.
But what about the beef? Grilled steak pairs extraordinarily well with the West Coast’s favorite: hop-jacked India pale ale. Particularly at the end of summer, there’s nothing quite like the smoky, char flavors the grill infuses into your steak alongside American Brewing Co.’s Breakaway IPA. Heavy hop aroma with citrus bites takes the steak and bend it in a way your grill can’t. The floral kick clears the palate and prepares it for the next juicy bite.
Don’t stop just yet. If your sweet tooth needs some satisfaction, bust out the porters for pairing precision. While a porter resembles stouts in terms of the caramel and molasses-y notes, they’re often lighter in body and have a cleaner finish, allowing the style to bond with soft sweets, from chocolate to vanilla. For David Flaherty, certified cicerone and marketing director for Washington State Wine, his beer-sweet of choice is an ice cream float.
“Get the booziest, barrel-aged imperial stout you can get your mitts on and some vanilla ice cream,” Flaherty advises, recommending Silver City Brewery‘s bourbon barrel aged imperial stout. “Scoop the ice cream into the glass, pour the beer over and serve. Or pour the beer in the glass, and scoop in the ice cream. Wait, better yet, open a new tub of ice cream, eat half and then fill with beer. Eat before carton disintegrates.”