As the number of craft breweries and range of beer styles has exploded, even the most casual of sippers has gotten savvier to the array of flavors available. We haven't quite reached the point where diners regularly ask their servers for beer recommendations based on their entrée of choice — but that day is coming.
The Cicerone Certification Program trains restaurant employees in the minutiae of beer and beer service, putting students through a series of exams to attain the status of Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone or Master Cicerone — a level attained by only nine people so far.
At Spokane's Manito Tap House, owner Patrick McPherson is a Certified Cicerone, as is bartender Riley Elmer, and all the waitstaff are Certified Beer Servers. As McPherson puts it, "it's certainly been a competitive advantage for us that all our servers know quite a bit about beer."
Since we all can't eat at Manito Tap House every night, we tapped McPherson for some basics of food-and-beer pairings that can come in handy whether cooking at home or eating out. One of the basic tenets to keep in mind, he says, is that "you usually want to get something that's either going to complement or contrast." For example, an IPA typically goes well with a spicy dish because the spiciness and hops of the beer nicely accompany the heat. A contrasting, sweeter beer can also work.
I threw a variety of food and beer styles McPherson's way, and he made some suggestions, while noting that, as in all things food-related, it's all "super-subjective."
We're spoiled with salmon in the Northwest, and McPherson suggests — particularly with smoked salmon — going with "a beer that's got a bit of a smoke background to it," perhaps a smoked porter. For lighter fish with their "delicate flavors," try a blonde or a British pale ale. "The British is a little less hoppy than the American versions, it would go really nicely," he says. And for fish and chips, a nut brown ale "would be delicious."
"A pale ale or IPA is going to pair really well with that," McPherson says, because they have a spicy, strong flavor that can stand up to those hot sauces.
Much depends on your preparation. A burger's toppings change the flavor dramatically, so picking a beer can be tricky. A nut brown ale — "not real light, not real heavy" — is one option. If you're grilling a steak with some chipotle rub, you might want a porter flavored with chipotle, or a smoked porter.
For one of my favorite BBQ staples, something with both smoky and sweet notes works best, McPherson says. Perhaps a brown porter, as that's "going to be a little less dark, almost towards a brown. It's going to have little bit of caramel notes to it, a little sweet, but some smoky [notes] from the dark malts."
For spicy Mexican dishes, a pale ale or IPA is a good call. But not all Mexican food is spicy, and as McPherson notes, "Mexico was kind of instrumental in keeping the Vienna Lager style alive." So you can feel good about grabbing one of those, or a pilsner, McPherson says, "a nice, light beer."
I almost stumped McPherson with the idea of eating spaghetti and meatballs with beer, but Elmer chimed in quickly when challenged with a red-sauce pairing. "There's acidity," he says, "It's darker, stronger flavors, and it could be a little spicy. Maybe an IPA."
That's right, you need a beer with dessert. A nut brown ale has "some nuttiness and some caramel tones," so they pair nicely with sweet treats. ♦
Where to be, what to drink
MON, MAY 11
River City Pint Night
Pacific Ave. Pizza
Kick off the celebration with pint specials and special swag giveaways from River City Brewing from 5 to 7 pm.
TUE, MAY 12
Collaboration Beer Festival
Some folks might assume that something called Spokane Beer Week means one of those big festivals with tents and tokens and little plastic taster glasses. While the week is much different from that format, you can still get a taste of the classic beer fest with this party. Head to the No-Li Brewhouse lawn to taste six collaboration beers made by partnering breweries and sip along to the sounds of the Trailer Park Girls. 4-7 pm
Republic Brewing Company
Make the drive out to the small northern Washington town of Republic and get properly schooled in the process of making craft beer. Also includes a tasting and a tour. 6 pm, $15, $10/mug club members.
WED, MAY 13
Durkin's Liquor Bar
After you've read our story on beer pairings, head to Durkin's for a six-course meal paired with six Perry Street beers. 6 pm, $60/person (tip and tax included). Call 863-9501 for reservations.
THU, MAY 14
Meet the Brewers
12 String Brewing
At this event, you have a chance to match a face to your favorite beers. The brewers from Paradise Creek, No-Li, Iron Goat, Selkirk Abbey, Laughing Dog and Waddell's all will be on hand to discuss their beers.
FRI, MAY 15
Mango Mamba Release Party
12 String Brewing
3 Ninjas food truck will be on hand to pair their spicy goods with 12 String beers; you also can celebrate the release of the brewery's Tequila Mango Mambo, their latest creation.
SAT, MAY 16
Stella Strong Whole Hog Benefit Auction
Lantern Tap House
For the second year, the Lantern hosts this party to raise money for Stella, a 6-year-old who is battling leukemia. The Lantern also will debut its collaboration brew with Alameda Brewing, called Summer SPF Ale, and auction off an entire Ramstead Farms pig. 5 pm, $50.
Small Batch Festival
This festival is now in its third iteration, bringing a dozen of No-Li's rare and cask-conditioned beers to the public. The past two have sold out fast, so advance tickets from
beerfests.com are recommended. 11 am-3 pm, $20.
SUN, MAY 17
Music and Collaboration Beers
Big Barn Brewing
Celebrate the last day of Beer Week out in the beauty of Green Bluff while kicking back to live music and sipping on collaboration beers. ♦