In honor of the Beer Issue, we're turning our attention this week to beer pairings.
When you're in a well-heeled restaurant with an abundant wine list, it comes as little surprise to see a sommelier—a wine steward—approach your table to help you pair the perfect combo of food and wine. But think about it: Wine contains basically one ingredient—grapes—while beer, starting with malt, hops and yeast, can contain a lot of additional ingredients, including spices or fruits that can give the beverage more flavor.
If a one-ingredient drink can be so varied as to warrant an entire profession devoted to its nuances, wouldn't it follow that a more-varied beverage—and one that's so loved by Oregonians from the coast to the desert—would also support a certification aimed at pairing it with foods?
Well, it does. In the beer world, the equivalent of the sommelier is the "cicerone," a graduate of a training program that preps budding beer experts in the nuances of imbibing and serving beer. Ray Daniels, a brewer and author, started the Cicerone Certification Program in 2008 in Chicago. The program offers a number of certification tiers, much like the steps offered by programs such as the Court of Master Sommeliers.
"It was high time that somebody created an education program, a certification program that paralleled what the wine world has been doing for a century—to have someone knowledgeable at the table selling bottles of beverages," says Brian Kerr, executive chef at the Deschutes Brewery Bend Public House, who's gone through two levels of cicerone training.
"I am also a wine sommelier," Kerr remarks, "and people would joke, 'beer is made, wine happens.' You could just drop a bunch of grapes in a bucket and come back in a week and you'll have wine. Beer's not the same way, beer needs to be crafted—hence the name—and the variety of not only malts and hops and yeast has just exploded over the last five years to really cater to those exploratory brewers who are looking for the latest flavor, the newest thing."
Level one for Cicerones is the "Certified Beer Server" tier, teaching people, according to the Cicerone Certification Program syllabus, about understanding beer styles, history, characteristics and flavor attributes of styles by region, identifying normal flavors of beer and their source, and pairing beer with food, among other topics. Level two is the "Certified Cicerone" tier, which includes deeper knowledge on designing a meal, cooking with beer and more on successful beer and food pairings. Beyond that are two more levels—hard to achieve. The Cicerone Certification Program lists just 13 Level 4 "Master Cicerones" in its worldwide directory. In terms of Level one, the program lists dozens of certified professionals in the Bend area, at companies including North Rim Brewing, Bend Brewing Co, Deschutes Brewery, Worthy Brewing Company, Crux Fermentation Project, Silver Moon Brewing, Three Creeks Brewing, local distributors and others. At Deschutes, Kerr estimates about 60 percent of the current staff has gone through the cicerone training.
So next time you're at a local brewery that also serves up an extensive menu, ask the staff to put you in touch with their cicerone. While you're waiting, use this handy guide for some general suggestions about what food goes best with your brew*.
Foods to Go with Your Brew
Great with a burger or cheese, including English cheeses such as Derby or cheddar. Good with pumpkin flan, bread pudding or bananas Foster.
India Pale Ale
Delicious with spicy foods, including curries. Great with cheeses such as Gorgonzola, or with sweet, spiced desserts.
Good with seafood, chicken, burgers, tangy cheeses or even spicy food.
Comfort foods are the name of the game. Try salmon, smoked sausage or roasted pork. Gouda cheese or Cheshire.
Smoked and roasted foods are delicious with this dark beer. Roasted meats, blackened fish, or Gruyere cheese. On the dessert side, cookies!
Spicy, rich foods such as Mexican mole, Szechuan food, or BBQ beef, as well as aged cheddars, and creamy, chocolaty cakes and desserts.
Light foods for a light beer. Seafood, salad, sushi, or mozzarella cheese. May be too light to pair with dessert, unless it's fruit!
Good with lighter foods, such as veggies, salads or sushi. For dessert, pair it with citrus or sorbets.
Bratwurst—it's German, after all. Also other light foods such as chicken, salmon, salads, or great with Vermont cheddar. Yummy with flan or spice cake.
*Suggestions courtesy: Brewers Association