Conversation with Sam Calagione & Marnie Old
Authors of He Said Beer, She Said Wine
MARNIE: Sam and I first met when we were doing trade tastings. We got to talking and found we didnt quite see eye-to-eye about which beverage was the best choice to partner with great food. We started playing around with arguing about which was better, and at a certain point decided we needed to take it to the public to settle the question. We began a series of dinners where our guests would enjoy a wine and a beer with the same course and cast a ballot to decide which partnered better. We called these dinners "Beer is from Mars, Wine is from Venus," and they were tremendously popular.
SAM: I think its indicative of how close the worlds of beer and wine really are in the context of food, because every single night the winner was decided by a single course. And in every situation we had beer people voting for wine, and wine people voting for beer. Were passionate about championing our respective beverage of choice, but one of our main goals is to make beer people more comfortable choosing wines, and wine people more comfortable understanding beer. And, to get both sides more comfortable understanding the breadth of choices within the two worlds.
In He Said Beer, She Said Wine, you give great tips for making beer and wine choices to go with everything from pizza to crème brulee. Can you offer some foolproof advice for choosing a bottle at our next meal?
MARNIE: The first tip is that if youre enjoying it, its good. Theres a lot of discomfort, especially with wine, about ordering the "right" thing. Thats really not so important. Its about doing what you enjoy. I couldnt tell you whether you prefer key lime pie over chocolate cake, and yet people think that theres a right choice and a wrong choice with wine. Its more about whats happening that day. Whats your mood? Is it summer or winter? Is it a special occasion, or is it a relaxed barbeque in the back yard? Its better to think about wine as sauce on the side. Wed never put the same sauce on everything we eat, everyday. The same is true with beverages.
Sam, you mentioned that at the outset you were surprised to discover how much beer and wine actually have in common. How does beer compare to wine?
SAM: The major difference, of course, is that beer is better than wine. But, the simplest comparison would be to say that lagers are more like white wines, in that theyre more mellow and refined, and ales are more like red wines, in that theyre more robust and intense.
Does the rule of drinking white wine with seafood and red wine with red meat still apply?
MARNIE: Something we all have tremendously good instincts for is the idea of putting lighter, more delicate and more subtly flavored beverages with lighter, more delicate food. Its also the first decision that any sommelier makes in pairing for a particular dinner. To say that as a hard and fast rule white wine should be paired with white meat and red wine with red meats is something that I think needs to be revisited. Its a sound guideline, based in science and experience; however, it is possible to drink very well pairing white wines with red meats and red wines with fish. That said, there is a fundamental difference in the fermentation process that leads this pattern to be more or less true most of the time. Tannin, a property found in red wine, is something we feel on the palate as a tacky, drying sensation. That can lead to a bit of a challenge when pairing with low-fat dishes and seafood.
What makes cheese such a great beverage partner?
MARNIE: Most wines arent designed to impress you on the first sip. Theyre designed to be food partners, to have their acidity softened by salt, and to have their intensity and tannin softened by fat. Cheese is dominated flavor-wise by fat and salt, the exact two properties that are needed to balance out wine.
SAM: As Marnie said, many wines werent designed to taste good on their first sip. On the other hand, beer is meant to taste great on the first sip, the second sip and the third pint. But, that doesnt mean that its any less food-friendly. And, cheese is a great place to start. The carbonation in beer acts as an exfoliant. It clears the palate between bites, whereas wine without carbonation tends to bounce off the cheese and go down your throat without intermingling. The overlap in the world of cheese and beer is also really obvious. Wonderful beer producers like Chimay in Belgium make their own in-house cheese, and Maytag blue cheese is made by the Maytag family, who own the pioneering microbrewery Anchor in San Francisco.
Are there any foods that are notoriously difficult to pair with beverages?
MARNIE: Artichokes are challenging vegetables for the sommelier to work with. Theyre also the darling of every chef from here to Hawaii. Theres a compound in artichokes that confuses taste buds into perceiving all flavor sensations as sweet. After you eat them, everything else tastes saccharine. Theres no question that wines dont taste true to their real flavors when dealing with artichokes in high quantities. Certain wine styles can handle this better than others, though. Light-bodied, un-oaked white wines like Grüner Veltliner from Austria work particularly well.
SAM: I think its ironic that wine has all these Achilles heels, like artichokes and asparagus. Theres really no problem with these foods when it comes to beer. Id pair artichokes with a dark, malt beer like a milk stout or porter. While artichokes dont tend to work very well with the vegetal components of hoppy beers like pilsners or I.P.A.s, those beers would work well with asparagus.
From Publishers Weekly
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