Pairing Beer and Pastries

Beer during the dessert course? Maybe so. I recently attended an unusual beer-and-pastry pairing event, put on by folks from San Francisco's Thorough Bread bakery, and the San Francisco Baking Institute. You don't often think about pairing beer with sweet pastry, so I was curious to see if there were any surprises or things to learn. With the exception of the first course, each dish was paired with two beers, but one of the beers would be poured again with the following dish. The idea was that you got to try each beer with two foods, too.

Gougères, the only savory item, started off the tasting. The little eggy cheese puffs were paired with the Belgian Tripel Karmeliet, a strong-yet-dry ale which mimicked the gougères' buttery notes.

Next was a light, flaky caramel Napoleon served with a so-called beer that really tasted like a hard cider, called Floris Apple from the Belgian Huyghe brewery. Floris got raves from the table, but it was way too sweet for my taste. Particularly when tasted with the next item, an apple galette. Much better with the galette was Trois Pistoles from the Canadian brewery, Unibroue. I'd never tried Trois Pistoles before, and really liked it. It's a Belgian strong ale (9% alcohol), dark brown in color, but spicy, fruity, and yeasty rather than cloyingly heavy.

Little caramel chocolate tarts were up next, with both the Trois Pistoles and Samichlaus Helles, an interesting Austrian beer that is aged in oak for 10 months. The Samichlaus is barely effervescent, feeling almost like a port or cognac in the mouth. It would be a shoo-in for just about any dessert experience, including a triple crème Brie.

Mini carrot cakes with cream cheese frosting were served with EKU 28 from Kulmbacher of Germany, an super strong Bavarian lager that was so rich and heavy, I couldn't get past one sip. I don't think I'd pair it with anything, much less dessert, but I think it's supposed to be a fortifying winter drink, so maybe I'd feel differently curled up under a bear rug. The cakes were better with Maudite, another easier-drinking Belgian-style dark, strong ale from Unibroue that had enough spiciness to balance out the malty sweetness.

Lastly, a sweet, gibassier, was paired with the Maudite and the Triple Karmeliet. In my view, the little ball of eggy, brioche dough covered in sugar (an obscure and insanely good Southern French pastry that Thorough Bread does very well), is better suited for coffee than beer. Gibassier contains candied citrus peel, anise seeds, butter, and a little olive oil. It's not too sweet, and was actually overpowered by the beer.

Gibassier

Overall, I didn't think the beer necessarily heightened the awesomeness of the desserts in the way that wine can really enhance certain foods. But that is a feeling I have in general about beer. It's food-friendly, don't get me wrong, but there are far fewer opportunities for highs and lows. In other words, you probably won't make a terrible pairing mistake with beer, but you're also unlikely to hit something out of the park, if that makes sense. I have my own beer preferences (i.e.: didn't like the quasi-cider or the EKU, loved the Trois Pistoles and Tripel Karmeliet,) but I would have felt that way about those beers regardless of what pastry came alongside. Still, it did reinforce my opinion that beer pairings are a lot of fun, and there's nothing weird about pastries with beer. That's good news for dessert and breakfast.

Images courtesy of Galen Krumel.