One day before a dinner party with an unknown amount of people and an unknown menu, I was given the task of bringing the beer because, well, I’m the one that never stops talking about beer. Mission Impossible it isn’t, but I wanted to impress. What did I do?
First, I dug a little deeper and found out that it was going to be less than 10 people and that most of the attendees were more wine people than beer people. Now I was getting somewhere. Importantly, I knew how much to buy. The other reason behind getting this information is so you can narrow down the choices and tailor the beer to the crowd that is going to be at the party or dinner. Is it a gathering of your parent’s friends, your beer friends or a group you don’t know? You can choose beer solely based on the food being prepared but you risking scaring a beer beginner to death if you bring in sour or high-alcohol, barrel-aged beer. The flip side of not acknowledging your audience’s taste is that you ring the doorbell and proudly show off the safer choice, a beer that everyone in attendance has had before. If you want, bring a second different style of beer as a comparison. A really cool idea is to bring a beer for the main course and a beer for dessert or as a substitute for an after-dinner coffee.
I went to one of my favorite beer sellers, Vendome Toluca Lake. They have a great selection, especially of new craft beers from Europe. Since my goal was to find something mild for the beer uninitiated, Europe is a good place to start because American beers (like the country) are big, brassy and bold in general, whereas European beers are a little more quickly accessible to those new to craft beer. So I was looking for something that was an introduction to beer for the more wine oriented guests. As I scanned the choices, I also kept in mind that I needed something that could go with a lot of different styles of food. Usually, to make a better pairing, I would try to find out the menu. It makes selecting so much easier. You can weed out beers that would overpower a dish or don’t have complementary flavors. IPA’s, for example, match cheddar cheese well. But they can overwhelm most other dishes.
To add another layer of complexity to this seemingly easy errand, I make sure that I am buying something that fits the weather. A pilsner may go great with a particular food and be an excellent match with the guests but if it’s a cold, windy day. Something a little heartier is in order, like a brown ale or abbey ale.
That’s it! Four steps to remember. One: buy based on your audience’s tastes. Two: match with food. Three: consider the weather in your selection. Four: make sure you get enough to share.
What was my choice? Elysian Night Owl. A pumpkin beer. The dinner was near Halloween so I thought it was appropriate for the season. It’s an easy beer to drink but it has a nice amount of pie spice taste to it so it wouldn’t frighten a wine person and wouldn’t bore them either. Did it match the food? Not so much. Spaghetti is a tough one for beer and especially for a spiced beer. A crisp not so hoppy pale ale would have been a more successful choice.
Your homework is to raise your hand and say you will bring the beer for Thanksgiving this year. That’s right, beer for Thanksgiving. Turkey would pair great with a fruit wheat beer or a leftover Oktoberfest beer too. It will be your chance to really “wow” people with your beer knowledge.
Now that we are past the Oktoberfest madness, my beer suggestion for you is any of the Alpine Brewing IPA options. Duet, Pure Hoppiness, Exponential Hoppiness or Nelson. They are great beers that fit well into the Southern California fall weather.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.