As craft beer culture blossoms in Hall County and North Georgia, restaurants are getting serious about beer and food pairings — and you should too.
It’s dinner time, and you’re out with a friend and some unfamiliar acquaintances. Your group decides on a nice pub for dinner, but there’s a problem: Many of the men in the group are sporting sculpted mustaches; they’re wearing flannel despite it being August in Georgia and thick glasses despite having 20/20 vision. They’re accountants and social media managers but they’re out in Carhartt jeans.
The realization hits you: These people are beer snobs.
Panic sets in. What do you do? You can’t just order that Miller Lite with your blue cheese burger — the haughty chortles would never end.
So you ask the bartender for some recommendations, somebody like bar manager Sierra Bok at Recess Southern Gastro Pub, and your evening is saved.
Bok and the bartenders at Recess have been offering much more pairing advice in the past couple of years than they have before — just as craft beer was coming into its own in the area.
“I would say almost every other night (people want advice),” Bok said. “People want to know: I’m getting this for dinner, what should I drink with it? Or: I want to drink this beer, what do you think would be a good appetizer while I’m drinking this beer?”
Consumers are paying more attention to their beer and dinner pairings for good reason.
With its many varieties and deep complexity, wine has a centuries-long history as the drink of choice Epicureans. While beer doesn’t have as long a history in the culinarily curious, its flavor profile has a noticeable effect on a meal.
“You don’t want to drink a heavy porter and eat a really rich meal. You’re going to get overwhelmed,” Bok said. “... It’s just something to be conscious of.”
So what does she recommend?
Recess has eight beer taps, and at the moment has two beers from Athens: Creature Comforts Brewing Co.’s Reclaimed Rye amber ale and Terrapin Beer Co.’s rye pale ale.
Terrapin’s pale ale pairs well with fried chicken or fish and chips — fried white meat, Bok said. Creature Comforts’ amber ale doesn’t have the same hoppy flavor and goes with more mild dishes like shrimp and grits, spinach salad and bacon-wrapped dates.
From Gainesville, Left Nut Brewing Co.’s Lappland Blonde ale and Mighty Banyan IPA are both on tap at Recess.
The Lappland Blonde is a “lighter, easy-drinking beer,” Bok said. “It goes really good with our lemon pepper salmon entrée or our pecan pork tenderloin. Or even just some fried green tomatoes as an appetizer. It’s a lighter beer; it’s good with lighter food options.”
Outside of calorie counting, light beers are described that way because of their effect on the palate.
“It’s not going to sit there and linger in your mouth,” she said. “When you drink it with some salmon, you’re getting the flavor of that beer plus you’re getting the flavor of that salmon. You’re not just being overwhelmed.”
The Banyan IPA has a much more hoppy flavor — a piney, clean and sometimes sharp flavor — than the blonde and as a result complements more rich flavors.
“That goes great with our beer-bourbon braised short ribs, or our blue cheese burger – or really any burger,” Bok said. “It pulls out the flavor of (meat).”
The national craft beer trend is way ahead of Gainesville, and places like Atlanta, Birmingham and Portland, Oregon, have been pouring effort into their craft beer projects. As a result, websites like CraftBeer.com and Epicurious.com have come up with their own beer and food pairing recommendations.
But in Gainesville, people are thirsty for local beers. Recess and most of the restaurants in town focus on local beers and Georgia beers because that’s what customers are requesting, Bok said. If they don’t have a local beer on the menu, people often want to know why.
“They’re from Gainesville or they’re from Athens,” she said of their customers. “They want to see (the breweries) do well.”