As a Serious Eater, you've mastered the art of the dinner party. Your kitchen table for six leafs out to seat twenty, the last time you hosted a potluck, everyone brought booze, and the clicking of your barbecue's ignition is followed closely by hastened footsteps and the tell-tale ring of your doorbell. You're a whiz in the kitchen, and everyone knows it. It's time to take it to the next level. The right beer, paired with your killer eats, will create satisfaction beyond the sum of their liquid and solid parts.
Here's how to go about hosting an awesome beer dinner, in 8 easy steps.
1. Go Drink Some Beer (Call It Homework!)
To maximize the awesomeness of your beer-and-food pairings, you'll be choosing the beer first, and then making the food to best accompany it. So you want to know your beers. Taste a bunch of beer; it will serve as inspiration fuel later. But what should you taste?
If you're standing in the beer aisle, try to choose a few beers of varying styles and intensities. Stick to breweries you know and respect. Don't be afraid to revisit old favorites.
Then? Go home and drink 'em. That's the fun part. Take notes. That's the less fun part. Try to summarize the flavor of that beer with just a few key flavor descriptors. This will help you when it comes time to create dishes that will taste great with each brew.
2. Plan Your Attack
As you're sipping, head over to Maggie Hoffman's article on just how to go about finding tasty pairings.
Here are a few general guidelines to keep in mind:
- Your food can either contrast or mirror the flavors in your beer
- Match the intensity of your dish with the impact of your beverage.
- Brightness is a useful tool and acidity and carbonation can cut through richness in food.
- Tannin and bitterness can balance heavy food and cut fattiness.
- Sweetness in food should be paired with some sweetness in your beverage.
- Umami in food can be matched with umami in beer from roasted malts.
Each of these are now tools in your belt. Strap it on and get yourself to the grocery store. Don't drive though—you've been drinking.
3. Wander the Grocery Store
Let inspiration strike you. Notes in hand, meander through the grocery store, and think about what you've tasted. That roasty, smoky, light-bodied English brown porter pops into your mind as you find yourself in the mushroom aisle. What's that, brain? Sauteed mushroom crostini with thyme and smoked sea salt? That's a dish you've got there! Thanks!
But wait, those peaches look good, don't they? Remember how that IPA you tasted had fruity (almost stone-fruit-like hop flavors and scents?) A little fat might be needed to balance out the hop bitterness of that beer. We could go with a heavy sweet cream-based dessert, or we could wrap some of those peach slices in prosciutto. Bam, there's first course AND dessert possibilities! We're a good team, brain, high five!
Have fun with it, and don't stress out too much. Part of the fun is experimenting!
4. How Much Beer to Buy
Now that you've got your pairings all worked out, it's time to buy the beer for your freeloa—er, guests. 4 to 5 ounces is typically enough for each course. The more courses and the stronger the beer you're serving, the smaller the pour should be. You should make sure to have enough for everyone to have a second pour if they want one, so figure you'll need to buy 8 to 10 ounces of beer per course per guest. Bottle-conditioned beers may have some yeast in the bottom that you won't pour into your guests' glasses, so assume you'll have about 10 usable ounces in a 12-ounce bottle.
A small pour of a bright, acidic beer serves as an excellent amuse bouche, so consider adding one more beer to your list. Hand out glasses as your guests arrive, and allow folks to mingle before you start serving dinner.
Shop in your own beer collection, too. If you have a beer cellar going and some nerdy (or curious) friends who would appreciate it, consider serving a vertical pairing for one of the courses. Serving two vintages of the same beer will open up a conversation about the science of beer aging and offer two takes on what is still, fundamentally, one pairing. The debate over which beer works better is always a lively one.
5. Consider Glassware
Though it's fun to get nerdy and serve your different beers in different glasses depending on style, but that can get expensive fast when you're providing for a big dinner party. Stick to a great all-purpose glass like the tulip (or a wine glass) and try to offer two glasses to every guest, so that they don't have to finish or dump a beer just because the next food course is ready.
6. Serve the Beer After the Dish
As soon as that beer hits the table, people will start drinking it. If you serve the beer first, you'll have guests looking for a second pour by the time the food arrives. If you can have a friend help you pour beer just as the food arrives, you'll save beer and let everyone savor how well the beer goes with your food.
7. Make Food in Advance
This beer business adds another layer of complexity to your already hectic dinner party, so try to pick dishes that you can prepare as much in advance as possible. A slow-cooked dish might be easier to juggle than something you have to sear individually. The host should have fun, too!
Make sure you have time to enjoy the meal and talk about how awesome the beer is with it. Tell your guests why you chose the beers you did—I love telling the story of the first time I convinced my older friend to buy my underaged self a bottle of Lagunitas' Brown Shugga as I bring out a monster pork chop to pair it with.
Don't skip dessert. I love serving creme brulee. It can be made ahead of time, and tableside torching offers an easy-but-dramatic presentation. This dessert also offers a fairly neutral slate for adding spices or flavor additions to help the dessert taste great with beer.
8. Have a Set of Sheets for Your Couch
It's easy to get carried away on the wings of a killer pairing or five. Make sure you can accommodate an overnight guest or two if at all possible. And have the number for the local cab company at the ready.
Have you ever hosted a beer dinner? Do you have any tips to add? Chime in in the comments.
About the author: Mike Reis is a Certified Cicerone and Co-Director of Beer at the Monk's Kettle and forthcoming Abbot's Cellar restaurants in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @beerspeaks or find him behind a pint near you.