Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer, and Food Festival
Nov 18 & 19, 2022

Pairing Beer with Your Fall Menu – By Ben Darcie

Pairing Beer with Your Fall Menu – By Ben Darcie

There is just something about the fall that makes you want to cook! It could be the change of season or the impending presence of Thanksgiving, but there is nothing quite like a seasonal, hot meal on a chilly fall day or evening. The best way to really kick up your fall experience a notch is to work on beer pairings with your favorite fall meals!

A great meal will surely impress your guests, but how often do they receive the option of a beer pairing with their meal? I’m here to offer you some tips and tricks as well as some stellar specific pairings to give you the hosting edge this fall.

The Art of Coursing.
If you’re looking to get into (or provide a) coursed experience, follow this golden rule of pairing beer with your courses: don’t overpower the next course when it comes to your pairing! This is crucial for a proper coursed experience. There is such a thing as palate fatigue, so follow the general rule of light to dark, weak to strong, not bitter to bitter to maximize the tasting experience. There’s no point in serving a Double IPA for your appetizer course only to follow it with a mellow Altbier or Oktoberfest for your main course – palates are already fried! Follow this core rule and you’ll do just fine.

Pairing Mentalities
There are, generally, two ways to approach a pairing. Contrastive and Complementary. Contrasting pairings ‘fill the gaps’ in each other’s respective profiles. For example, a spicy dish with a refreshing, light beer (for example, a Short’s Vintage Lager or Local’s Light), or a rich dish with a slightly acidic to acidic beer, like Lindeman’s Geuze or a Sierra Nevada Otra Vez Gose. These pairings are tricky, and may take some practice, but they lead to a wonderfully fulfilling pairing experience that intrigues.

Complementary pairings are much more straight forward, and are most commonly utilized by pairing scenarios. This is where you put complementary flavors together, knowing that they will amplify each other.
For example: New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale with an autumn salad. Some things are made to mingle, make it so!

Going back to our golden rule, generally, you’ll want to take it easy for appetizer pairings, though some like to give this pairing a nice little twist to grab people’s attention. There are some great styles that work well for Appetizers: Lager (German Lager for a twist), Marzen/Oktoberfest, Pale Ale, or Amber Ale if you want to go for something a little heartier – but remember, stick to the golden rule!

Specific Pairings:

  • Brewery Vivant Farmhand (Farmhouse Ale) served with a selection of cheese and charcuterie.
  • Arbor Bliss Wheat served with Apple Bacon Bombs – roasted apple chunks wrapped in bacon, topped with walnut chunks and drizzled with maple syrup.
  • Ayinger Dunkelweizen (German Dark Wheat) served with a selection of sliced, roasted sausages, sauerkraut, a great grain mustard, and caramelized onions. Bump it up to a finger feast with some soft white cheese with some character, a robust marmalade and sliced, baked pretzels.

Main Course
We’ve had an amazing appetizer with a great pairing, our palates are awake and ready to go, your guests are blown away, and now it’s time to really cement this experience with a stellar pairing for the main course.

A word of caution – many fall main courses are bursting with flavor – rich, robust proteins and some amazing sides. You could take this pairing in a thousand different directions, but the goal for your entrée pairing, which will ultimately be the course you spend the most time with is to not overdo it with the pairing. You may have a full beer or two over the duration of this course, so you’ve got to pick one that can sustain itself, consumption wise, while intermingling with all of the dishes on the table.

Imagine a classic Thanksgiving spread. You’ve got your turkey, you’ve got stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, sweet rolls, along with a bunch of other dishes that guests have brought along with them (some of which may be questionable). You could pick a pairing that works with half of the table, or maybe a third, but what about everything else? How are you going to pull off a pairing that works with all of that? The key is to take a step back and choose a beer that is dynamic without being too ‘loud’. Kind of along the lines of the appetizer mentality, but you get a little more breathing room.

Generally, I stay away from bitter beers for the main course. Firstly, a good chunk of the people that will sit at your table are averse to bitter beers anyway. So, let’s cross off IPA, Double IPA, and, in most scenarios, Pale Ales. Intensely boozy and strong beers are also ill-advised for this endeavor (for more reasons than one), so we’ll also be crossing off Old Ale, Stock Ale, and Extreme Beers like the Barleywine Family. Dark beers are a judgment call, if they can stand up to the main course while still complementing it – go for it!

So, what does that leave us with? The lighter half of the Lager family, Cream Ale, (some) Pale Ales, most of the medium to light English styles, the French/Belgian Table Style family (Farmhouse, Beire De Garde, Saison – though light and complex, these can be too intense for some), the classic Irish Red, and, very interestingly, the Brown Ale family. Plenty to choose from. If you’ve got a hefty enough main course, you can drift into the darker, heavier beers.Do keep in mind that this is just one person’s opinion – you can choose whatever you want! Some people love to serve a Porter with their main course. It’s all up to you.

Personally, for the main course, I tend to drift towards the English styles (especially ESB), and if I want something with a bit more character, Brown Ales offer a wonderful option – complementary but not overpowering or too strong. The German family also offers some excellent options: Helles Lager, Marzen/Oktoberfest, Hefeweizen and Dunkelweizen.

Specific Pairings:

  • Saugatuck Brewing Company’s Bonfire Brown served with roasted orange & ginger duck and roasted vegetables
  • Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest served with the classic Thanksgiving dinner. (Alternatives: Alaskan Amber, Arcadia Thunder Trail ESB)
  • Perrin Brewing Company’s Black Ale served with red wine marinated pot roast & veggies
  • Big Lake Brewing’s Leroy Brown Ale served with roasted pork and an apple/walnut salsa
  • Guinness Stout served with Shepard’s Pie
  • Samuel Adams Black Lager served with roasted apples stuffed with sausage, charred poblano peppers and seasoned rice

Chairs are being scooted back from the table, guests are sighing (and most importantly, smiling!) and recovering from a blown mind, and we approach the end of the evening. Things can’t possibly get any better – but they can.

Dessert is such a wonderful way to put a pretty little bow on this wonderful experience, and for those of us in charge of the pairing – it’s gloves off. Bring out the big guns! The big, gnarly barrel aged Imperial Stouts, the triple-coffee Imperial Porter, there are no limits here.

My biggest piece of advice for dessert pairings is to keep balance in mind – if you’re presenting a big, gigantic, intensely flavored beer, pick a simple dessert to pair it with. If you’re presenting a complicated dessert, keep the pairing simple. The idea here is to minimalize a crowded palate. There’s no point presenting two extremes together, they often negate each other or present such a mess that it just comes across as overpowering. Keep one of the two simple, and you’ll do just fine!

Specific Pairings:

  • Arcadia Barrel Aged Shipwreck Porter with Apple Crisp, drizzled with bourbon caramel
  • Darkhorse Tres Blueberry Stout with a piece of plain cheesecake (blueberry topping optional)
  • Founders Breakfast Stout with a chocolate souflee, topped with fresh raspberries
  • Rochefort 10 served with mince pies
  • New Holland Black Tulip Tripel served with a classic apple pie (made with tart & sweet apples)
  • Lindeman’s Geuze (unfruited Lambic) served with roasted pear halves, bleu cheese crumbles (optional, for a twist) and candied pecans, topped with fresh grated cinnamon and a honey/brandy drizzle

The table is cleared, bellies are beyond full and the mission has been accomplished. If the company is interested in a Digestif, there are plenty of amazing options in the liquor world, but when discussing beer, there is no greater option than the Belgian Sours.

They are hugely dynamic (you could spend an entire bottle dissecting the flavors), bright, acidic, and sour. They’re perfect for a digestif because they not only serve the purpose, but they also are a complete experience in and of themselves.
Depending on the experience of the company, I would suggest a fruited lambic for beginners. They are much more approachable because of the fruit addition, and the options from Lindeman’s are a fair bit sweeter than most, increasing approachability.

  • Lindeman’s Frambroise (Raspberry, very sweet)
  • Lindeman’s Peche (Peach)
  • Lindeman’s Kriek (Cherry)
  • Lindeman’s Pomme (Apple, a bit drier)

For those looking for the complete sour experience to cap off the night, we have some excellent offerings from around the state, including Arbor Brewing Company and Brewery Vivant. For today’s purposes, however, I would like to focus on Grand Rapid’s own Speciation Artisan Ales. Open one day a month to sell bottles (with a taproom scheduled to open soon), Speciation has skyrocketed in demand and has reached a stunning level of attention regionally and nationally. Check out their Genetic Drift line and treat yourself and your company to a closing pour of a beer that will stick with them for years to come.

In the end, it’s up to you to craft an amazing pairing experience, be it for two or for ten. I hope my guidelines and suggestions shed some new light on pairings for you, and empower you to feel more confident about pairing and crafting amazing experiences for yourself and your guests.Food is great on its own, and beer is great on its own, but together, they can elevate each other to a level neither could get to on its own.

Cheers and happy pairing!

Ben Darcie is an active beer writer and is the Homebrew Shop Manager & Education Specialist at Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply in Ada, Michigan, and the founder of Experience Beer, an organization specializing in public and private Beer Education.