In the beer media, there is often obsessive talk of pairing beer and food, and the sensory experiences of flavors, textures, and ingredients that compliment each other. There isn’t enough conversation about pairing beer to your experiences, a linkage that is arguably more important.
When deeply immersed in a fireside chat, late on a winter's evening, warming your bones near the fire of a ski lodge, a barrel-aged stout settles into the scene like it’s made specifically for the occasion. When hiking though the woods on a hot August afternoon, tank top sticking to your back, and dust from the trials clinging to weary legs, a crisp pilsner is a welcomed encounter. That barrel aged beer has no place in this tableau.
Pairing a beer to experiences is very similar to pairing music to events; it’s all about vibe. There are a few questions to ask yourself as you begin your beer and experience pairing endeavors:
What’s the weather like?
This is a big factor, but not the only factor. The perfect beer for any occasion is strongly linked to the temperature of your surroundings. Your beer should mirror your clothes, in a sense. The warmer the weather, the lighter in body the beer should be. Cold months welcome a heavier, darker beer.
How long will the experience last?
Keep in mind how long you’ll be drinking and be mindful of the alcohol content in your beer of choice. An all day drinking session should call for a low alcohol session beer. A shorter celebration can be the perfect excuse to break out a barrel-aged monster of a beer.
Is this a celebration?
Celebrations call for something special and that’s not necessary always fine wine, champagne, or top shelf whisky. Grab a fancy bomber of rare beer for a more noteworthy occasion.
What flavors will fit?
Although this pairing story isn’t as much about food, what you're eating is still a factor. Eating that burger in the pre-game parking lot of a January football game is an entirely different experience from doing so while at an August afternoon cookout. Eating sushi requires different beer (lighter) than barbeque, which will survive the onslaught of any big-flavor beer.
What sort of vessel makes sense?
From can to keg, the way the perfect beer gets from brewery to experience is also a factor in deciding what brew is best. Outdoor activities, especially those off the beaten path, are best paired with the ease and convince of a can.
Often the beer vessel of choice has nothing to do with convenience, but with presentation. The ceremony of opening a bomber to share with guests gives an added measure of rarity to the beverage you’re about to pour, making this the perfect vehicle to serve a unique beer at a small gathering.
Growlers work well when the beer will be consumed within a few hours of being opened. Keep in mind how heavy and fragile most growlers can be when deciding if this is how you want to serve your beer. Standard 12 ounce bottles have a classic and timeless feel to them, best when used in a setting where a recycle bin is close by and the empty bottles won’t cause a hassle.
Both of these beers have a malty richness to fit right into the scene.”
Let’s put these rules to the test, shall we?
First up: a summer afternoon spent floating the river with a few friends.
No food, but a long afternoon of sun, water, and conversation. Main factors to take into consideration: heat, and what could potentially be a long afternoon of drinking.
Best bet: a Session IPA will go well with the vibe, as will a nice crisp Kölsch. Both are low alcohol beers that will give you enjoyable flavors without being overpowering. A canned beer is perfect for this setting, easy to transport, it isn’t fragile, and the empties can be easily carried out.
If you find yourself saddled with the task of providing beer for such an experience, here are a few beers to look for: Founders All Day IPA, Lagunitas Daytime Ale, Mother Earth Endless River, or Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower. Wanna push the envelope a bit? Try a mild fruit sour. Nothing too funky, just a clean, crisp fruit Gose like Almanac Beer Golden Gate Gose or Anderson Valley Brewing Blood Orange Gose.
What about a Christmas party with close friends?
It’s cold outside, and the small crowd is dressed for the weather, gathered around a crackling fire. The food is typical of the season, warm and spiced. The get-together might only last a few hours.
Your best bet: a Belgian Quad, or Barrel Aged Stout. Both of these beers have a malty richness to fit right into the scene, possess a shareable quality, and are just boozy enough to warm up a winter’s night. The flavors pair well with a winter's feast. Pour them out of a bomber to give the event an added element of exclusivity.
Look for The Bruery So Happens It’s Tuesday, Firestone Walker Parabola, The Lost Abbey Track #8, or St. Bernardus Abt 12.
Beer is more than just something to drink, it’s more than a prop in a larger setting – it can set a tone and alter an experience. Keep that in mind when you’re making your selection for your next noteworthy occasion.