As the bubbles settle, a foamy head develops at the top of the glass. The smell hints at the flavors of the brew, and taste receptors light up as the cool rush of liquid washes across the tongue. This multi-sensory experience is the culmination of an art form that has led to an explosion of craft breweries popping up across the nation.
Craft brewers are defining this artisan field by experimenting with varying consistencies, characteristics and flavors of their brews. Some are even incorporating familiar flavors like peanut that complement classic beer notes, such as the roasted flavor of a dark, malty porter. While brewers create their beers with depth and complexity that are enjoyable well enough on their own, any Cicerone® (beer sommelier) will tell you that just like a fine glass of wine – craft beer is even better with food.
A Balanced Guide to Food and Beer
“One of the things we recognize that makes a really good flavor addition to a beer is being able to provide a balance between the ingredients that they're using and the overall beer flavors,” said Sparhawk. “The same way a brewer would find balance to make peanut beer a beer that's flavored with peanuts and not a beverage that just tastes like peanuts, you look for those sorts of synergies, balance and complements of beer with food.”
The Brewers Association offers courses on beer and food pairings to help craft brewers tap into the American dining scene. They represent over 5,300 of the nation’s small, independent and traditional craft breweries. Of that, over 1,900 are brew pubs – brewery and restaurant combinations that specialize in food and beer pairings, including peanut flavored beers.
At the helm of one of those brew pubs, Willoughby Brewing Company in Ohio, is Brewmaster Rick Seibt. He makes two award-winning peanut flavored beers that are a hit with customers and at competitions. The Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter won the World Beer Cup Gold Medal for specialty beer in 2014, and what Seibt refers to as it’s “big uncle,” the Nut Smasher Imperial Stout, won the bronze in 2016. He says that even though the porter has a complex set of tasting notes, he brews his beers with enough balance so that customers can have more than one and enjoy them with food.
“People drink that beer like they are drinking a lager or an I.P.A.; they don’t drink just one,” said Seibt. “It pairs well [with food] like any porter would.” The combination of coffee, peanut butter, and chocolate flavors balance the malty, roasted characteristics of a porter, and obviously lend themselves well with dessert. But the porter base gives the beer characteristics that also go well with meats.
“The porters with those intense flavors tend to go well with really any meat, roasted or smoked. We have smoked meats on our menu that go well with that,” said Seibt. “The key thing about matching your food is to match intensity. This is a pretty intense beer from a flavor perspective, so it matches well with more intense flavored foods.”
The Pairings are Complementary
Sparhawk agrees, and he sees opportunities for food and peanut flavored beer pairings beyond porters. “Putting the peanut butter and chocolate beers aside, if you were just pairing it up against a dish you would look for ways that not only the ingredients – the peanuts in the beer – would complement the food, but also the beer itself,” said Sparhawk.
That means pairing a peanut flavored pale ale or stout with food requires balancing the elements of the dish with both the subtle taste of peanut, and the characteristics of the beer (hoppy, bitter, sour, etc.). Take for instance Catawba Brewing Company’s specialty brown ale, Peanut Butter Jelly Time, that’s brewed with raspberries and peanuts to infuse the flavor of PB&J. While this beer would naturally pair well with the sandwich that’s the source of its inspiration, per the Brewers Association’s handy pairing chart, this style of beer might also work well with a game bird and grain dish.
Other brewers are also experimenting with peanut flavored beers besides porters, which means even more opportunities for food pairings. “Brewers are going to look for a way to differentiate themselves,” said Sparhawk. He thinks there may be an opportunity for a brewer to experiment with boiled peanuts as a flavor ingredient.
“I'm embarrassed to say I've never tried a boiled peanut,” said Sparhawk. “Greener character is what I kind of researched, so more like edamame or something like that. And those sorts of greener, fresher, raw flavors could work really well with something with a little bit more acidity. I would want to see what a brewer could do that’s a little bit maltier, maybe an autumn-style saison with some funk in it, some acidity, and see what happens with it.”
Regardless of the style in which craft brewers make of their peanut beer, the popular flavor adds a familiar taste easily enjoyable on its own or with a delicious meal. So, grab a growler of the peanut beer on tap at your favorite craft brewery and discover how it pairs well with food.