You can’t get much more classic a pair than a German beer and a sausage. And of the many styles of German beers, I find a classic Dusseldorf-style Altbier to be a winner alongside a lightly spiced pork sausage. Altbiers are ales that undergo a generous cold conditioning period which helps lend them a crisp mouthfeel. They are also nicely roasty and dark, but not chocolatey or toffee-like as a porter might be, and have a higher IBU level than many German lagers. Altbiers stand out in the German repertoire, and in my opinion they are big stars on the table.
Three Reasons Why This Pairing Works
- Commonalities: roasted malt and seared meat. Both are typically results of Maillard reactions–essentially, browning and flavor development that occurs when amino acids and reducing sugars combine in a certain heat range. This is what’s responsible for some of the highly-praised flavors in many delicious foods: roasted coffee, browned meats, fried onions, dulce de leche, condensed milk. Umami is another flavor term that’s thrown around with a lot of Maillard products. Basically, it means a highly savory flavor. Altbier’s roasted malt and sausage’s browned edges amplify each other. If you’re not lightly searing or grilling your sausage at home, you might miss this. It’s worth it, give it a little color!
- Things distinct: sausage is rich and usually rather fatty. It coats your palate, which is one of the reasons humans enjoy fatty foods–they physically last longer upon your tongue. Altbier is crisp, bitter, and refreshing. Alternating the two is a fun duet, making you want to eat more, and then drink more. If you love eating and drinking, this is your jam. I assume you like both, since you’re here reading this now!
- Spices. Most sausages include some spices, though this depends on the type. German and European sausages often have nutmeg, mace, white or black pepper, allspice, clove, ginger, and more. These flavors range from perky bright to earthy rough. Add a beer with spicy hops–particularly an Altbier, which is often hopped with noble or nearly noble hops like spicy Spalt. Essentially, spices work with each other to increase intrigue across your palate.
So, next time you’re firing up a grill or grabbing an easy dinner from the store, consider an Altbier to go alongside. If you’ve never tried one, I recommend locating a Uerige, if you find one at your local bottle shop. It’s a model others strive to emulate. Other American craft versions are quite variable, as expected–some are sweet, some are rough and more bitter. Experiment and you’ll end up with one you enjoy.