Editor's Note: We're trying to find the best beers to drink with our favorite dishes. Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is here to help. Got a food you want beer recommendations for? Let us know in the comments!
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Tangy tomato dishes can be tricky to pair with wine. Acids and tannins in the vino can amplify the acidity of the tomatoes to create harshly astringent offspring. But beer offers several tasty avenues to tame the tomato—malt to match the sweetness, yeasty notes to balance the tang, and hops and carbonation to wipe the palate clean.
A simple pizza provides a great platform to explore the best beverage options. (We can get more complicated with toppings down the road.) The semi-dried cherry tomatoes from Adam Kuban's recipe highlight tomato sweetness. This recipe's thin crust lets the simple sauce shine through.
My favorite pairings with acidic foods are lightly acidic beers. The combination of acids makes the whole seem less acidic. I think of it like those sound waves you learned about in junior high physics. When the waves are not in sync they cancel each other out. A funky Flanders red, for example, is great with pickled herring. (Really. Try it.) Oud Bruin, a close relative of the Flanders red, is a wonderful pairing with this pizza. This beer is maltier than its Flemish cousin, with the acidity staying far in the background. That light acidity provides a perfect balance to the tart tomatoes, while dark fruit flavors weave intricate patterns with the pizza's sweeter side. For a lighter and tarter combination that brings out the pizza's savory side, go with a Berliner Weisse.
My normal impulse with such a light dish would be to pick a lighter beer, but a malty-rich, amber-colored Belgian Dubbel works wonders. The caramel and dark fruit sweetness envelops the pizza, creating candy-like combinations. Spicy yeast notes on the back end pull out the garlic and oregano in the sauce. Underlying bready notes talk to the crust.
You can't go wrong with pizza and pilsner. While the amped up hops of an American pale ale or IPA would be great if this pizza had meat, coupled with a simple tomato-topped pizza, they come off harshly astringent. A Czech-style pilsner offers just the right balance of malty sweetness, spicy hops and bitterness to match the flavors without overwhelming them. The bready sweet pilsner malt pumps up the bready crust and also taps into the sweet dried tomatoes. The spicy hops talk to the spices in the sauce and the bitterness keeps the acid in check and wipes your palate clean.
Michael's Beer Picks
Liefmans Goudenband: This is arguably the benchmark beer of the Oud Bruin style. It's perfectly balanced between complex malt and acidic sourness. Deliciously mysterious flavors of dark cherries and raisins give you something to ponder while you drink. It really pulls out the rich sweetness of the dried tomatoes.
Petrus Oud Bruin: A bit less complex than the Liefmans, but still plays well with the sweet/tart pizza without overwhelming its flavors. Nice caramel notes add depth to the dried tomatoes.
1809 Berliner Weisse: Bright, light, tart and spritzy, this very traditional Berliner Weisse brings out the salty and savory side of the pizza and offers zesty fruity overtones. It works as an effective palate cleanser too.
New Glarus Abt: This beer surrounds the pizza and cradles it in a blanket of rum, brown sugar, and dark fruits. It turns the tiny dried tomatoes into candied jewels and lets the spices in the sauce take over in the finish. A hint of alcohol and the tomato tang keeps the pairing just to this side of too sweet.
Oskar Blues Mama's Little Yella Pils: A crisp, snappy bite and perfumed hops gradually give way to a solid and bready malt base. The bready sweet pilsner malt really calls out the crust and adds a bit of oomph to the tomatoes. Spicy hops talk to the sauce.
Lagunitas Pils: This is still my favorite beer from this brewery better-known for big and bitter brews. Delicate and balanced, look for this beer to emphasize the pizza crust and saucy spice.
What beer would you pair with a simple tomato pizza?
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.
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