Porter and Pickled Herring

porter n fish

Pickled herring is a recent favorite of mine, though it’s a not a new idea–it’s a true old-school European staple. Sour, salty, and a bit sweet, the bright cold oceanic flavors of pickled herring make a lot of sense in Seattle’s maritime climate. While a common drink pairing for Scandinavian cultures would often be aquavit or snaps, I also enjoy it with a roasty, balanced porter! 

You should be able to find pickled herring in a specialty section of many grocery stores, but it’s also not terribly hard to make yourself. You can also play with the spicing and sweetness level that way. I have been enjoying Hank Shaw’s Swedish Pickled Herring recipe. I used Pacific herring for my batch which you should totally do if you can find it (unless you are actually closer to the Atlantic). Find a porter that is balanced: not too bitter and not too sweet. It’s out there, I promise.

Three Reasons This Pairing Works

  1. Pickled herring is not a mild food. Though it’s not pungent per se, it’s a little fishy and strong-flavored. I love the flavors, but sometimes they can be opened up with a balancing beverage, like a malty beer such as a porter. The mild sweetness in the malt works with the sweetness in the pickle brine to help balance the tartness and strength of the fish flavors. porter and herring
  2. Pickled herring is often eaten on a firm rye bread, which contributes a good earthy flavor. Some similar flavors can also come from a porter–roast, coffee, brown, molasses. So the beer and the fish are essentially already friends.
  3. Mouthfeel. The fish is smooth, cool, and the sourness lingers along the inside of your palate. A good porter generally had a wide, medium-thick mouthfeel that does a good job washing away other flavors but also lingers on the tongue as well. You’re more likely to enjoy the next bite of fish if you start with a palate of something else, in my opinion. It keeps things interesting.

Good porters aren’t always easy to find. Georgetown Brewing‘s 9lb Porter is a classic Seattle option, and I particularly like Farmstrong Brewing’s Porter. And of course there is always reliable Black Butte from Deschutes for a more distribution-friendly option.

Cheers to fish and beer!