Top Pair: Old World Beer, Old World Grain

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with photos by Will Blunt
Vol. 26
June 2012   

Sometimes champagne and beer are an easy pairing option. Bubbles and cold are forgiving partners in the search for a good beverage match. But in the hands of a master, the right bubbly can create a nirvana of flavor combinations, enhancing certain elements, calming heat, or adding unusual spice and herbal notes.

It may be the birthplace of Peychaud’s famous bitters, but on our recent trip to New Orleans, we found many a great sommelier, including wunderkind Liam Deegan, the only certified cicerone in the state of Louisiana, serving up cold brew at Sylvain. How could we pass up the chance to sit down with a certified beer sommelier and gobble up his bon mots with our bon appétit?

Restaurant
Who
  • Liam Deegan
  • “I've always enjoyed pairings that seem to bring things full circle,” explains Deegan. “A Dubbel [a strong version of brown beer] can elevate earthiness found in mushrooms, Witbiers [hazy, light and sometimes sweet] will add spice and citrus to light salads or fish, and a stout or brown ale will match the caramelized sugars in grilled meat.”

    Another must-have on the menu is a Belgian Pale Ale or Tripel, according to Deegan, who justifies his choice with a quote from Garrett Oliver, who describes Tripels as "big enough to take on boldly flavored dishes, but elegant enough to dance with refined flavors."  

Beer
Tripel Karmeliet, Brouwerij Bosteels, Buggenhout, Belgium
Dish
Pan-seared Scallop, Farro, Almonds, and Roasted Red Grapes
Pairing Note
Chef Alex Harrell has created a gem of refined balance and bold complexity. His scallops have a lovely hint of sweet fruitiness, balanced by a little seafood funk and a caramelized crispy sear, which is enhanced with farro and almonds, earthy flavors that also contain a sweet, nutty flavor and texture. The grapes elevate the dish with their light notes of fruit and bright acid, building a little pyramid of flavors. One sometimes thinks that a perfect dish can’t be improved upon, but that is where the cicerone or sommelier performs true magic.

Sylvain carries Tripel Karmeliet because Deegan feels it is one of the finest, most versatile beers out there. It's relatively light-bodied and delightful in warm weather, but high enough in alcohol content to warm you on a cold day. He explained that the complex flavor profile (fruity, herbal, floral, spice) can match with most anything: from a diverse cheese plate to a roast chicken, or even oysters or salmon.

Deegan considers this pairing “awesome” for multiple reasons, not least of which is combining a traditional, Old World beer with an Old World grain, farro. Remember that full circle thing? “The three grains in the beer (oat, barley, wheat) come together with the fourth grain on the plate, creating a nice base for the pairing, which is accented by the floral/herbal (honeysuckle) and fruity (banana, apple) qualities of the Belgian yeast,” explains Deegan. This bass line is danced over by the sweet notes in the scallops, almonds, and grapes.  A touch of white pepper in the beer tempers the sugar and brings your attention back to the scallops’ seasoning.

A wordsmith as well as a master at beer pairing, we’ll let Deegan have the last word. “Beers with wheat in them, to me, always have a bit of lemony citrus tang, which is a natural match for seafood dishes. As far as texture/mouthfeel, which I find very important in pairings, bottle re-fermentation creates both a dry finish and a high level of carbonation. In the Tripel Karmeliet, that finish lightens the entire experience, cutting through the fat, revitalizing, refreshing, and cleansing the palate.”

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