Porter and Pickled Herring
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!