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This recipe for honey-soy glazed salmon posed a pairing conundrum. Which flavor would dominate? Do you pick a beer to go with the salty, earthy, umami character of the soy sauce or the sweet, floral notes of the honey? Perhaps the spicy garlic and ginger would take the upper hand. Once prepared, it turns out that the lemon juice and honey come on strong, giving the dish a delicate and unexpected fruitiness.
Fruity beers work well with that fruitiness in the glaze, whether the fruit comes from citrusy American hops, estery yeast strains, or from actual fruit. If the flavor comes from fruit, pick a light fruit like apricot. Fruity beers with a bit of earthy, wild-yeast funk pick up the ginger and soy, pulling together all the flavor elements of the dish.
To come at it from the soy side, choose a beer with rich caramel flavors and spicy European hops. In either case, don't go too strong. The dish is surprisingly easy to overwhelm.
Yeasty and fruity wheat beers are perfect companions to this dish. The velvety mouthfeel stands up to the oily salmon and the potent glaze and yet is light enough not to overpower it. High carbonation works well to cleanse the palate. Yeast-derived banana and spice flavors in these beers comingle with and enhance the fruit and spice of the glaze. German hefeweizen, Belgian witbier, and American wheat beers with fruit all perform splendidly.
Citrusy American-style IPAs are another fine match to this recipe. IPA has enough sweet malt backbone to complement the caramelized sugars in the glaze. Bitterness and a touch of astringency from the hops counter all that sweetness and cut through the fish oils. Pick one that leans to the grapefruit, tangerine, and tropical fruit side of American hops for a perfect pairing.
To pair to the soy sauce, go with a märzen. The style has enough caramel and melanoidin flavors to speak to the dish's darker side. Spicy hops, balancing bitterness, and clean, lager finish keeps your palate fresh.
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Michael's Beer Picks
Franziskaner Hefeweissbier: This was the best pairing we tasted. The mouthfeel is full enough to hold its own against the flavorful sauce and the oily salmon. Characteristic banana and clove flavors blend seamlessly into the fruit and spice of the glaze, while light acidic overtones make the lemon juice pop. The carbonation washes it all away.
Hoegaarden Wit: This classic Belgian witbier offers a lighter, more refreshing counterpart to the dish. It has the wheaty mouthfeel, yeasty fruit, and high carbonation to both complement and contrast the flavor and feel of the food. Lemony citrus notes sing with the lemon juice in the glaze.
Hitachino Nest Ginger Beer: This was the most interesting pairing. Ginger speaks to ginger, pulling out some of the spicier element in the dish. The touch of brettanomyces funk connects to both the earthiness of the soy and the fruitiness of the honey and lemon. A nice match.
Pyramid Apricot Wheat : For a full-on fruity assault go with this apricot-flavored American wheat beer. The stone-fruit flavors are perfectly complementary to the fruit character of the glaze. A light touch of acidity that comes when fruit is fermented provides a cleansing counterpoint.
Marble Brewery IPA: Grapefruit-citrus hops and an ample backbone of grainy-sweet malt connect with the honey and lemon in the dish. It's bitter, but an emphasis on fruity hop flavor keeps the bitterness from clashing.
Harriet West Coast IPA: A Belgian/American blend, complex fruit and spice notes from Belgian yeast gives West Coast IPA an added pairing punch, while a cornucopia of American tangerine and tropical fruit hop flavors put it over the top.
Paulaner Oktoberfest: Caramel/melanoidin malt flavors speak to the darker, earthy and umami flavors of the soy sauce. At the same time the caramel sweetness counters the salty soy and pulls out the honey. The crisp lager profile keeps it fresh.
About the Author: Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is the lead educator and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts beer tastings for private parties and corporate events. His beer musings can be read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, his own Perfect Pint Blog, The Hop Press at Ratebeer.com, the City Pages Hot Dish Blog, and in respected national beer magazines.