Holly Ebel: Choose the best beer to accompany dinner

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Pairing Boxes, Forager Brewing Company

It was bound to happen — that beer would achieve a status far beyond what you drink at a baseball game, the beach or a barbecue.

As a rule, beer drinkers have been a pretty undemanding group, but the craft beer craze is changing that. With more than 2,000 small breweries around the country, the challenge is choosing which beer to drink as well as what food to pair it with.

These days it isn't just brats and burgers. As with wine, the experts say you want the beer and the food to complement each other. The challenge comes with choosing what beers to drink. So many to try, so little time.

One place that experiments with a variety of ingredients in small-batch beers is Forager Brewing Company (1005 Sixth St. NW, Rochester). In the relatively short time it's been open, Forager has produced 42 different beer styles for a total of 800 barrels. One of brewmaster Austin Jevne's latest creations combines spruce tops and lilac blossoms in an as yet-unnamed beer. The aroma, he says, is the opposite of what you taste.

Working closely with Forager's kitchen, the food is meant to complement the beers. Together, the chefs and brewers develop "Forager Pairing Boxes," which brings three of Forager's beers together with culinary creations from the kitchen.


Ari Kolas, owner of Apollo Liquor, is keenly aware of how all of these new beers produced regionally and around the country are impacting the market and the food scene.

"I like to know what is on a customer's menu and the flavors they like," he said. "If they are serving a roast or a braise, I suggest a darker amber or a stout. Spicier foods like Thai or Chinese do well with a beer that has hops, like a Pilsner."

A favorite of Kolas' is Urquell, a Czechoslovakian Pilsner that has been brewed since the 1300s.

Kolas adds that one should also be aware of the ingredients in the food — if it's something light, like chicken or a salad, choose a lighter beer. He also has noticed that it's men that are drinking more of the beers. "Women still mostly stick to their wine," he said. And often he does, too: "If I have a beautiful steak, I would prefer a good glass of wine."

Not so for Louis Garcia, of Rochester, who counts craft beers as both a passion and a hobby. He is about to finish a one-year class on beer brewing at the Dakota County Technical Institute in Rosemount and also is an intern at Forager.

Craft beers are what Garcia is particularly interested in, and he's made it a point to travel around Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa tasting beers. His friends are the lucky recipients of the meals he prepares serving some of the favorites he finds.

Some of what Garcia does is unusual, but creative. "I like a Belgian red from a brewery in New Glarus, Wis. It's made with Door County cherries and goes great with cheesecake."

Here's something else to try: beer floats. "I take a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour a stout over it," Garcia said. "In the fall I do the same with an Oktoberfest beer and add caramel syrup to the mix." More regularly he chooses a Pilsner with his pizza.


Over the summer, those interested in craft beers should watch for beer and food dinners at the Loop. New bartender Charles Morris is hoping to start a series of those this summer. "I'm excited about the possibilities," he said.

A few general rules I learned about pairing food and beer: a delicate dish calls for a delicate beer, and bold food, a bolder beer. Aim for harmony between the two.

The stronger the alcohol content, the stronger the flavor of the food needs to be. Balance is important.

Finally with foods that are fried or greasy, look for a brew with higher carbonation, like a German wheat or a Belgian ale. These lift the flavors and cleanse the palate.

Finally, at the end of the day if you have a particular beer you love, you'll probably like it with everything you eat. There are no wrong choices.

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Pairing Boxes, Forager Brewing Company

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