Two of my favorite things are right here: potatoes and IPA. There are a lot of options here for pairings, though, so I hope you’re ready for some variety. First, you must decide: what kind of potato salad? Classic summer BBQ style loaded up with mayo, boiled eggs, pickles and onions? German style with bacon and a warm dressing? French-inspired with tons of fresh herbs and white wine vinegar? The world is your pomme de terre. I went with a more Eastern European-like set of flavors: capers, cultured sour cream, a hearty dash of pickle brine. For IPA options, I would shy away from anything hazy or juicy here and stick with our old classic IPA friends that highlight citrusy and piney hops like Amarillo, Cascade, or Centennial. An attenuated body is desired, but a bit of caramel malt goes great as well.
Strictly speaking, “winter beer” or “winter ale” isn’t a specific category of beer like stout, amber or gose. It isn’t a style that reaches back decades or centuries to Europe, and it hasn’t really become an emerging craft trend in the US either, although it’s a common seasonal lineup for most craft breweries. As a bartender and bottle shopkeep I hear requests for winter ales this time of year. I always wonder what exactly the customer is wanting–because the genre of beer is so vague, I’ve always got to prompt the customer for more information. There are some major recurring characteristics of a “winter beer,” however, and you are probably already thinking of them. Here in the northern hemisphere around the winter holidays it’s cold, dark, and either snowy or rainy and damp. These environmental factors change the way we eat, interact, feel, and yes, drink.
It’s winter here in Seattle, which means it’s time to enjoy all the sauerkraut (and drink all the beers, but that’s not limited to one season)! I love a good fermented vegetable, and I have a particular affinity for well-made German-style beers, and it turns out the two go great together. Of course, you would not really eat sauerkraut alone–it is usually a side or garnish to sausage, roasted meats, or other hearty fare, although I also enjoy it with a variety of other foods. Because meat is typically easier to pair with beer than a funky sour veggie, we’ll start with sauerkraut and go from there. I chose a lovely kölsch from Zoiglhaus Brewing in Portland because I recently discovered them (their beer is fantastic!), but you’re welcome to pick your favorite kölsch from elsewhere. Keep in mind that the majority of American-made kölsches are a little softer and less crisp than a traditional German style. As for the sauerkraut, live (unpasteurized) is best for flavor complexity. If you need a little more background on kölsch as a style, check out my style spotlight article here!
We’ve all seen two poles of beer presentation. Some bars or taprooms will pour their beers into one or two types of glasses, for simplicity, cost, or ease. Usually the beer style itself won’t matter–it’s the total volume of glassware is the determining factor–schooner, pint, maybe liter. At home, similarly, you might use any kind of vessel: shaker pints, beveled water glasses, wine stemware, coffee mugs. Most people in fact do not stock all the types of possible beer glassware (newsflash: there are a lot). On the other side of the spectrum, some brewery taprooms or bars (or super-aficionado home drinkers) will strongly insist on serving each style (or brand, sometimes) in select, “proper” or official vessels. I’m not here to insist upon using specific glassware, nor am I going to tell you that you can just use any glass you want. Wait: you can, in fact, use any glass you want, but there are reasons why certain choices are going to be better than others, and you might actually care. This could be a mind-boggling, endlessly pedantic or pop-sci article, sure–but I’m just going to stick with the main concepts, so fear not. The following breakdowns don’t just apply to beers–wine and other beverages can play too.
Biscuits. They’re one of the best things to come out of ovens, ever. I know everyone has a preferred version–cream, buttermilk, lard, shortening, butter, baking powder or soda, cheesy or sweet, and so forth. To me the buttermilk biscuit is the standard, made with butter and maybe lard or bacon fat: not too tall and fluffy but nicely leavened with some floury heft to withstand toppings or fillings. Okay, so this isn’t a food blog, but I had to wax for a moment about biscuits. I hope you understand.
You like beer (I assume, since you’re reading this now). You probably also like vanilla. It’s a flavor present in so many food products (usually sweet and/or rich) that we’ve all been basically conditioned to like it. But the mysteries of vanilla are many, and I’m here to give you a quick and useful rundown on the beautiful bean and how and why it’s used in some beers. So first, the basics.
It’s hot out. If you’re feeling like me, you’re seeking the most refreshing, cool, and satisfying foods and drinks right now. To me this means a lot of things, but at the forefront of my desire is a light, crisp and refreshing lager, an uncomplicated but clean and bright flavor profile, nicely carbonated and cold. Cucumbers are in season and are lovely and watery, calming and cooling. There’s no need to complicate them with a crazy dressing–a dash of lemon, salt and fresh pepper is often enough, although a sprinkle of sugar and dill fronds are my favorite additions. It’s all about balancing here.
Ah, Europe. The birthplace of many modern types of beer and the motherland of cultivated hops. The first documented hop cultivation is from 936 in the Hallertau region of present-day Germany, an area that remains important in the global hop-growing outlook. In fact, according to the Brewers Association, 80-90% of Germany’s hops came from Bavaria in 2015 (and most from Hallertau, a mere 180 square kilometer area). Overall, Germany produces 60% of Europe’s hop crop and holds about one-third of the world’s hop-growing acreage, says the European Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development.
It’s not a simple act to find a beer to pair with sweets and dessert. Beer doesn’t always play well with other sweet things, and can easily overwhelm or be minimized by dessert. The trick is to not only think about complementary flavors but complementary mouthfeel (texture) and body (richness) as well. You probably wouldn’t have great success in pairing a barley wine with a lemon sorbet, for instance, but a light-bodied brighter beer (like a tripel or a strong golden) would probably do just fine. So here I put rich, buttery (and rather crumbly) shortbread cookies alongside a malty, caramel-y beer for good effect.
New Zealand’s hops have become some of the most coveted varieties for craft brewers around the globe. Sharing some similarities with both Australian hops and newer American hops (such as Mosaic™ or Citra™), NZ produces a number of tropical, bright, fruit-forward hops that are shaking up flavor profiles in beer. New Zealand currently exports 85% of its hop harvest and has been funneling a lot of dedicated time and funding into breeding and development programs for new varieties.