While I am certainly no beer flavor pairing expert like our resident bloggers SirRon & TwoPints, but I do believe that not all beers can be drunk in any random order and be enjoyed equally. Now I'm not expecting a national gathering of beer pairings any time soon, but it's worth exploring what works and doesn't work, at least for me. Before I outlay my strategy, I thought I'd explore a few of the more famous beer drinkers in history to see if anything can be gained:

Wade Boggs - Miller Lite, then Miller Lite, then...you get the idea. Repeat 62 more times and thus legends and blogs are made. Hmm, I do like Miller Lite and when I am in a situation where it's going to be a long drinking day, it is a mainstay. But not much help in deciding how to combine.

The Most Interesting Man in the World - now while he doesn't always drink beer, when he does, he makes sure it's Dos Equis. Likewise, XX is one of my favorites. TMIMitW is probably too busy wrestling sharks, unhooking bears from traps, and diving for treasure to put too much thought into pairing XX with anything else, so again, no help.

George Washington loved a beer as much as anyone, but probably can't gain much insight into whether he would recommend a Indian Pale Ale before or after a Bud Lime. He probably just stuck with his own recipe to avoid paying too much taxes to the British. And he liked his whiskey, too.

Norm Peterson definitely likes beer. A lot. On his never-settled tab. While certain Hall of Fame material for beer drinking in general, he never did seem to grasp that Cheers swill was not necessarily all there was out there. Yes, sometimes he'd go to Gary's Olde Town Tavern when Sam wasn't looking, but he doesn't seem to be THE guy to go to here.

I think my point is that in pop culture, you never see people discuss how to combine beers of different flavors to make it "work". Commercials will only talk about their one product, TV Shows and movies are similar, what with product placement and all. But I seldom start a night on one type/flavor/brand of beer and then finish in the same place. So here is J.R. Ewing's guide to combining beer. This is not to be attempted by amateurs, please consult your local physician.
Doogie says "Beer? Never had it..."

Guideline #1: I seldom go with a beer for one and only one. Unless it's > 20 oz. If I'm going to visit a flavor, I need to exceed the 20 oz. threshold. There are exceptions, but in an average night of throwing them down, it's a couple to a few, but...

Guideline #2: If I am rotating beers in, I avoid going more then 3 (~40 oz.), with the exception of the end of the evening that will be covered later. I violated this myself last weekend on a Fireman #4 binge, it had been too long since I had the superior tap version, and friends were buying rounds so I stuck with what they could remember. The exception that proves the rule.

Guideline #3: Load flavor up at the top. The flavor of a rich flavored beer (St. Arnold Christmas Ale or Kona Wailua Wheat) is going to be compromised if it is rotated in after two Shiners, a Miller Lite that your date didn't finish, then a few Buds that the drunk at the end of the bar bought you.

Barney says "This Bud's for You"

Guideline #4: If food is going to be a central part of your evening, start with the beer paired there, then build around it. Example, I like Shiner with BBQ, the Bock flavor seems to blend will with the sweet sauces therein. So if I'm going to Salt Lick and bringing Shiner with me, I'm making sure I load up the top of my beer drinking evening with something that flows to Shiner, then layer the later part of the evening with something that chases it well.

Shiner and Stubbs...made for each other

Guideline #5: Lighten up at the end. After I've saturated my taste buds with flavors early, food paired ones in the middle, it's time to get lighter as the evening gets later. Here's where you might exceed the 40 oz. guideline. There are times when the tailgating goes on and on and you want to keep going. The lighter beers (even Ferm banned ones like Miller Lite, Milwaukee's Best Light, Olympia) can be safely consumed ad infinitum. As they are more water-laden, it won't hurt your hangover situation either. So maybe Wade Boggs in onto something, I mean if you're going to go 64 deep, you'd better lighten up.

Guideline #6: Shiner for me goes really well after just about anything, but can ruin my taste buds for just about anything else after it. Except lighter beers, Shiner leads to lights okay.

Guideline #7: A water between beers (every 3-6) can help in a lot of ways. Hangover of course, clearing the palate a bit.

Guideline #8: Beer specials (such as Singha on Astros opening day) can be enjoyed in more than 40 oz. limits on principle. Somewhat similar to my Fireman #4 reference, if something is working for you that day, go with it, and it goes with Guideline #5.

Guideline #9: Beer samplers should only be tested before everything else. Above guidelines don't apply Great way to start the evening, trying a flute of everything, then settling in for your 20 oz - 40 oz. for what you like going forward.

Guideline #10: Audibles can be called at any time. Go with your gut, but remember the above, and your beer enjoyment will go much further than otherwise.

So a few examples, these are Texas beer centric, but you can fill in your own favorite local brew:

Start with two St. Arnold Summer Pils, lean toward 2 or 3 Shiners, then finish with Miller Lites at the cousin's wedding when that's all that's available.

Go with a St. Arnold Texas Wheat (or any other wheat/Hefe) with squeezed Lemon, move on to St. Arnold Amber, finish with a few Shiners

Feeling like a Guinness. Stick there for two pints, then over to a Stella Artois for a couple, then finish with a blonde of any sort.

Go with one uber-flavor beer (St. Arnold Divine Reserve, any of the heavier beers SirRon and TWoPints reviewed during craft beer week). But only one if it's too heavy. Then go with something a little bit lighter to clear the palate, then delve into your favorite Amber, Wheat, etc.

I look forward to SirRon, TwoPints, and anyone else's thought and opinions!

-JR

1 comments
  1. SirRon July 13, 2009 at 9:19 PM  

    My suggested approach to food-beer or beer-beer pairings can be summed up in a word that wasn't even in my vocabulary until recently. It wasn't even in my vocab when I held that food and beer pairing party. Be hedonistic.

    In a perfect night of a fully stocked and diverse beer fridge, my preference is to have something strong first (Belgian or hoppy, but 7+ ABV at least). Then, move to whatever goes with dinner. Last is more of a wild card, but I would go with the lightest. I almost never finish with something dark. Just a personal preference. I guess my beer-beer pairings align very much with your Guideline #3.

    For the record, my strategy at a fine beer pub (such as Gingerman) is to start with a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (strong, gets the party started), move to something new to the taps or something I haven't tried in a while (e.g. Real Ale rotating or something), then finish with an old faithful (e.g. Magic Hat #9). If we are talking a more-than-3-pint night, then the extras would fit between #2 and #3.