Greg Engert wrote about this in his blog "What Wine Can Teach Us About Beer And Food" (Blogged on YoungAndHungry, Washington City Paper, August 10, 2010). He said:
And in truth, wine does taste wonderfully with many dishes, as does beer; they just tend to do different things when tasted in congress with food. One general idea I subscribe to is that beer tends to complement the flavors of food, while wine tends to contrast. This is born out by the processes involved in the creation of either beverage. The malts employed in brewing have been "cooked," resulting in flavors one will find in cooked food: roasted, caramelized, toasted, grilled. And beer is seasoned with hops, but often also orange peel, coriander, ginger, chocolate, etc. This allows for beer to echo the flavors found in foods also cooked and seasoned. I will admit that this sort of commonality makes beer and food pairing a bit more approachable, but it is different than what wine can do with food (and not necessarily better).
Wine can complement from time to time, but I prefer the interaction of contrasting flavors when wine confronts a dish. Wine does not have the cooked malt effect or the seasoning aspect of beer, but demonstrates a host of fermentation aromas and tastes resulting from its production. I think it is helpful to look at wine as a sort of additional saucing for the dish, and one that tends to transform the dish’s (and wine’s) flavors; beer and food have more of a tendency to mutually accentuate the similarities of aroma and taste found therein.
I had to think of this as I was salivating over a great meal at Delicious Heights, a great local restaurant/bar. I had ordered a 12 ounce seasoned and grilled Center-Cut Filet Mignon (yes, yes, I know, but after too many evenings that I had to work late, it was time to spoil my wife a little as she entered the last 2 months of her pregnancy, and to get myself in the process something nice as well), with a great Merlot butter, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus.
I was craving beer, so I ordered a Chimay Grande Reserve ('Chimay Bleu') to go with this meal. This is a beer with a wonderful balance, a smooth mouthfeel, crisp, with a slight tingling because of mild carbonation, bready/yeasty flavours mixed with a spiciness and dark fruits, a fantastic beer! And what a delight to drink together with this meal! The slight dry hopiness worked perfectly with the asparagus, the malt and yeast went great along with the mashed potatoes and the meat, and the spices/fruity flavors were joined by the sweetness of the merlot butter. Just spectacular. As if each sip was a liquid continuation of the meal!
I was so impressed I can't help but using all these big words to describe that experience! And then I even forgot to mention how that very same beer was a surprisingly perfect companion to a oven fresh chocolate browny with vanilla ice cream... Definitely something you should try!
So next time you have guest coming over for dinner, or when you simply want to spoil yourself a little, think of a great beer to complement your food. It will be a great new field to explore, a whole new side to your favorite drink to discover!