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Pairing the right beer with your meal

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This is not only the season for holly branches and red ribbon, but of social gatherings with little sandwiches served on silver trays or slabs of meat with peppers and good cheer.

So it is at times like this when people wonder what beers to serve with their holiday meals. While the quick answer is some sort of beer that didn’t have to travel across the country to get to your table, there is a bit more finesse than that.

There are a lot of craft beers out there that go well with pretty much any meal, and a few tricks to serving the right beer with a particular meal. It’s like picking the right wine for dinner, just not as snooty. To extend this simile, think of ales as red wine and lager as white wine. Hoppy beers can also be used in place of pairings that call for acidic wines. But the beer rules are by no way as rigid as those for wines, so just get over it. Relax, it’s beer.

There are multitudes of pairing variables when looking at the many beer styles available even in the sparsest convenience store cooler. There are too many particular brands to list completely, so here are just a few rules of thumb to follow when you stroll through the beer aisles in search of the right brew for your holiday party.

The big rule with beer and food parings is that the bitterer the beer, the heartier the meal needs to be to hold its own against the bite of the strong hops. That generally means a beef-and-pepper dish or something else that has some heft to it. Save the pale ales and wheaten brews for the fish or chicken.

Another rule worth thinking about that is easy to remember is to keep like tastes together. That means sweet beers with sweet foods and tart beers with tart foods. These sorts of terms are increasingly finding their way onto beer labels to make it even easier to make what to serve with the food on the menu. But one thing to remember about this beer-guide notion is to always err on the side of having the more powerful taste in the beer instead of the food. That is to say that the beer should be sweeter than the sweetest dish or the beer should have more of a bite than the main dish. The reason for this is that having an underpowered beer would make it seem more watered than it really is, while a powerful beer accents the food because of its lingering aftertaste.

This might all sound confusing, but just these two rules solve most of any of the beer troubles you might face.

A good way to think about it is to go with some beers that follow the rules and a few oddball choices just to mix it up. You can then look like an expert by talking about what makes a good beer pairing.

A good guy to consult about such issues is chef Peter Weikel at Tacoma’s Stadium Bistro. He is one of the most noted chefs in the ‘hood and is a heck of a nice fella.

At just 17 years old, Weikel found his way to the Pacific Culinary Institute in Vancouver, B.C., to study classic French cooking under internationally recognized chef Walter Messiah. That was when the Loonie was worth less than the greenback. Ah, the good old days. Anyway, he served as a chef to the stars before partnering with his parent to form Stadium Bistro more than a year ago.

While the nook of a restaurant doesn’t have the most extensive row of beer taps in Tacoma, its selection covers the bases for beef, fish, chicken, salad or whatever else he just happens to be cooking up that day.

One way to solve the beer-pairing dilemma is to just experiment by running a few ounces down the tap row while he tosses something together to represent the meal you hope to cook. While your food won’t be as good, you will at least have a reference point for when your party guests arrive. Or you could just have him cater the thing and call it a night.

[Stadium Bistro, 204 St Helens Ave., Tacoma, 253.683.4150]

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