I know there are some readers out there who will want to email me after this column to tell me what an evil person I am. They will ask how I could possibly promote the slaughter and execution of an innocent cow. Let me do you a favor and save you some time, don’t email me… I really don’t care.
If you actually read my columns you would know I hardly try to even appear to be politically correct. When it comes to vegan, hippie, food terrorists I have no patience… or respect. I know that everyone has a right to their opinion but it seems as if groups like PETA want to force their agenda upon all of us. Well, this is my column and my agenda this week is beers and beef. I might even throw in a couple of cigars just to make the column even more politically incorrect. Lock up the kids, this could get ugly.
With so many people starving and sick in America, I don’t want to hear from a patchouli oil-wearing little white girl from Westport Connecticut with blond dread locks that smell like a wet pitbull, about the sins of KFC. Here is my deal with the hippies of the world… Drop all of your save the whales or save the chickens causes and actually help people. People! Strange notion, huh? When the last child is fed and safe and tucked away in their bed I will take up your vegan cause with you. Until then, lets talk about beers, beef and if we have time, maybe a cigar or two. There is no better place to get the three, or so I thought, than a top of the line five-star steak house.
Most restaurants, or restaurant chains, have a Food & Beverage manager along with a head or executive chef. It is the job of these people to make sure our culinary experiences at their restaurants are beyond reproach. Unfortunately, I am finding that most high-end restaurants have beer lists that pale in comparison to your local Applebees or Ruby Tuesday. I am going to place blame on this gross oversight in three places. First, I blame the chefs and F&B managers for not doing their due diligence in making sure there is a beer that a customer can pair up an $80 Kobe steak with. Blame also lies with the beer companies for not educating the restaurants about beer and food pairings. We, the consumers, are the biggest bearers of blame. If we actually suggest our favorite restaurants carry better beers instead of grinning and bearing it. They might start to get the message.
The message we need to send these restaurants is simple. We need to educate them in the fact that beers pair with foods much better than wines. The carbonation in beer naturally cleanses the palette during our meal. It is also easier and less expensive to pair different beers with each course in the meal since beers, for the most part, come in 12 oz. bottles. Imagine your restaurant tab if you had to pair a 40 or 50 dollar bottle of wine with each course.
During a sampling of Boston restaurants, I was very surprised in what I found for beer choices. I visited Ruth’s Chris, the national high-end steak chain world renown for their steaks cooked in clarified butter. You would think if they put all of this thought into how they were going to cook a steak, that Ruth’s Chris would put a little thought into what they would serve with it. This is not the case! The biggest-bodied beer they had was Samuel Adams Lager… I found this puzzling. They brought in this great beer line while already having a lineup of the usual, nationally-known lagers and pilsners. Why add another lager when a Sam Adams Boston Ale or their new Brown Ale, would compliment a high end cut of beef fried in butter?
Boston’s famous Oak Room faired much worse with their beer list. The home of the $85 dollar Kobe steak and the $88 Châteaubriand had an even more limited beer menu than Ruth’s Chris. Boston Magazine has named the Oak Bar ‘Best Hotel Bar’ on more than one occasion. Yes, it is a beautiful room and the food is beyond world class. The Oak Bar also has one of the best wine selections in Boston, if not the entire state of Massachusetts, so can someone tell me why they can’t stock one beer that would compliment their $85 steaks? I also would like to know how a bar with no beer gets named best hotel bar in Boston.
The restaurant that gets my highest marks in Boston for pairing their foods with great beers is Excelsior. Excelsior, like all high-end restaurants, has an understandable focus on their wines. A glass elevator whisks you up to the dining room as you pass through Excelsior’s three-story glass wine tower. To my surprise, when I arrived in their dinning room and my perfectly cooked steak arrived, I was able to enjoy it with a 12 oz bottle of Chimay Blue . Not only was the Chimay available, but I actually had some phenomenal beer choices that paired up perfectly with Excelsior’s immaculate menu.
In pairing a beer with a good steak there are a few simple rules to follow. In most cases, you may want your beer to be similar to the food you are eating. This has much to do with the way the food is cooked. I am not talking about the herbs and spices used in the cooking process, I’m talking about the actual method of cooking the food.
Think about a piece of boneless chicken for a minute. If we poach the chicken in water it will be very bland. If it was fried, the chicken would take on an entirely different flavor. Cook it over an open flame, or roast it, and there are even more flavor options. This is very similar to the way barley is malted. Different temperatures and cooking times give different colors and flavors to the malt. Some roasted, others smoky or sweet.
When pairing up a steak with a beer, a bit of roasted malt is typically nice. When I reach for a beer to pair with a steak, typically it is an English brown ale, or my favorite, a Belgium brown ale. I find the peppery Belgium yeasts play off of the grilled beef very well and the dark fruit flavors and aromas are a perfect compliment for your filet mignon. The roasted malt has enough toasted flavors to stand up to the charred outside of the steak. A bit of hops will also match that bitterness the char seems to have.
Complimentary tastes usually work, but we can also go with the opposites attract theory. For dessert you could match the sweetness of fresh fruits with the sourness of a Lambic or tart berries with a Belgium triple. There is no right or wrong in pairing a beer with a food for yourself. If you like it, and it makes you happy, you have a winning pair. Another school of thought for pairing beers is to compare them to their wine counterparts. Think of how much a saison and a good white wine have in common with the fruit flavors, flowery hop aromas, and the peppery phenolics.
Did I just hear collective head scratching? Phenolics are compounds that give off flavor profiles in organic or carbon-based materials. For the purposed of our discussion, these materials are plants and yeast.
Sasions are also very carbonated with a bit of acidity. Champagne anyone? For myself, lighter colored Belgium beers like Sasions and Wits are the perfect compliment for a light white desert cake with a bit of sorbet. Some people prefer an Imperial Stout with it’s port-like qualities as a dessert beer with a slice of chocolate cake and some fresh raspberries. If you still have room after desert, an Orkney Skullsplitter or a Dogfish Head Immort Ale and a Cohiba will cap the night perfectly.
The bottom line is that whatever you like to drink with your steak, chops or Beef-a-roni, is fine. The key is to enjoy your beer. If you want to get a little taste of how I like to pair up a steak, here are my picks for all of us carnivores:
Ommegang: Nice dark color and a mileage of fruit and flowery type flavors. It boasts almost 9% alcohol, but does not have an alcohol taste to it. I have found it in 12 oz bottles and in a 750 ml. corked, caged bottle! At half the price of your average “real trappist” beers this is a great buy at 5 – 6 dollars a 4 pack.
Commercial description: Meditate on this dark ruby elixir. Breathe in its deep emanations of fruit and spice. Is that clove you smell? Licorice? Fig? Sip serenely as revelations of honey, toffee, chocolate and dark dried fruit delight your senses. Can a beer be holy? you wonder, and Where can I get a grail on-line? Ommegang, our first brew, was inspired by the centuries-old brewing practices of the Belgian Trappist monks. This burgundian brew gives off a variety of aromas, including plum and cinnamon, and packs in flavors such as caramel, toffee, and licorice. At 8.5% abv, it is known to cause spontaneous meditation.Try Ommegang with: savory dishes, meats, slow-cooked French dishes made with pork, lamb, rabbit, beef, carbonnades, hotchpot, marinated roasts, barbeque, rich cheeses, almost every dessert.
Wachusett Nut Brown Ale: This ale pours a deep brown chocolate color. It is crystal clear and transparent with a thin, eggshell-colored head. The aroma is very nutty with big toffee tones. The mouthfeel is medium with a huge initial malt flavor. There is a nice amount of carbonation sparkling across the palate and a subtle hop finish.
Commercial description: A Very smooth, dark brown ale with a rich malt finish
Lagunitas Censored Ale: This beer is a medium-clear brown with amber hues when the light hits it. The aroma is heavily of malt with grain and caramel. There is also light, grassy hop tones rising from the glass. What I really like is the earthy tones that come from the yeast. This beer is dark and dirty, I love it. The mouthfeel is medium with soft carbonation and a light to moderate alcohol flavor. The finish is lingering and bitter.
Commercial description: The Censored Rich Copper Ale This ale contains no actual copper but we’re pretty literal… It looked coppery, so we lamely called it a copper ale. Lots’a nice caramel malt though… Alcohol 7.7% by volume
My number one pick this week:
Trappistes Rochefort 8: The dark fruit flavors play off of beef perfectly and there is a peppery spiciness in the yeast that is a perfect compliment to the steak. The blending of the sugars and fruit flavors is perfect and the tastes change as it warms (for the better.) My beer fridge is at 50 degrees, as the beer warmed up the plum flavor started coming alive in the back of my mouth.
Commercial description: The Abbey of St-Remy, in the southern part of Belgium, was founded in 1230, and the monks began to brew beer sometime around 1595. The beautiful small brewery in the abbey, Rochefort Trappistes, is one of only six Trappist breweries in the world and makes full-bodied, deeply flavored dark ales. They are bottle-conditioned and among the world’s most highly-respected beverages. “8” or Green Cap Deep brown color; the flavor is vigorous and complex, with firm body to support the strength. The aroma has elusive notes of fresh fruit, spice, leather, and figs. Great with full-flavored dishes like pate, duck, or wild game; shows well with strong-flavored cheeses. Also wonderful alone as an aperitif. Serve in traditional Rochefort stemmed goblet.