Beer Pairing, Belgian Style, at The Publican

Amped up appreciation for beer isn't new to the food scene. Craft breweries, beer tasting menus, and even beer in cuisine have comfortably settled into the mix of restaurant menus and beverage programs right alongside cocktail pairings and molecular mixology. But a dedicated beer sommelier is still hard to find. Harder still is finding one who knows how to adapt the highly variable flavor profiles and carbonation levels of beers, ciders, and ales to a restaurant menu as intentionally bare-bones as The Publican's.

A menu boasting only essential ingredients and divided simply into fish, meat, and vegetable sections might seem unforgiving of a pairing misstep. But The Publican's beer sommelier Michael McAvena applies the restaurant's culinary philosophy—"pristine ingredients, simply prepared"—in compiling his list. So if a typical Publican dish emphasizes unadorned natural textures and solid, strong flavor profiles, they can easily be paired with beers of real character. In fact, McAvena's pairings tend to showcase a direct, colorful relationship between dish and drink, proving that these myriad malty, hoppy, and fruity beverages have as natural a place in pairing menus as classic Bordeaux or brut Champagne.

At a recent tasting, McAvena paired four dishes with four complimentary brews, with an especially strong showing from Belgium—no surprise there, since it’s among the top ten beer-consuming countries in the world, just behind the United Kingdom. Beer-making and drinking are traditions in Belgium, and McAvena’s beer pairings showcase the versatility of some of that country’s best product. Two other pairings, with beers from Chicago’s Goose Hill and Delaware’s Dogfish Head, made a strong case for the growing tradition of excellence at American craft breweries. And while not every pairing was as successful as the last, the overall endeavor was a resounding, frothy success.