Holiday meals can be difficult to pair with beverages, with so much food on the table and dishes that span a wide range of flavors and textures. It’s challenging to find a single beer to bridge them all without creating a head-on collision with one dish or another.
Easter is no exception. Taking just three common elements of the Easter meal — ham, scalloped potatoes or mac & cheese and deviled eggs — you move from salt and smoke to rich cream and starch and on through to sour. And that’s not even considering another Easter favorite, roasted lamb.
Short of selecting various beers to target each dish, what is an Easter-observing beer lover to do?
Not to worry. Considering just a few simple beer and food interactions can point you to a number of beers that will cover the table. They may not be slam-dunk matches with everything, but there will be no catastrophic clashes to spoil the overall experience.
Salt-dampening sweetness, fat-cutting fizz and spicy/fruity complements are what happen when you pair the Easter feast with a German-style wheat beer, often called hefeweizen. Wheat malt gives this style a soft, bready sweetness that offers the perfect counterpart to a salty ham, but also builds a bridge to any sweet glaze like honey. The characteristic banana and clove flavors in the beer match the pineapple and clove that often flavor ham.
Hefeweizens are highly carbonated. That effervescence cuts through the cheesy richness of scalloped potatoes. But suspended yeast and proteins give the beer a full enough body that it won’t be overwhelmed by even the creamiest mac and cheese.
And that deviled egg? There is some kind of magic that happens between hefeweizen and eggs. It is the best brunch beer, hands down. It cuts. It’s creamy. There is a light, lemony acidity that will tamp down the vinegar in the eggs. Deviled eggs are maybe the best reason of all to drink hefeweizen on Easter.
There are several Minnesota-made examples of the style that are all very good. Schell’s hefeweizen is a definite favorite that is just coming into season. Fair State hefeweizen and Utepils Ewald the Golden are also excellent examples. You can’t go wrong with any of these.
Belgian tripel is another great pairing that works on similar principles. The sweetness is there, as are the fruit and spice — although this time with a pepper, citrus and stone fruit tilt. The cutting carbonation is even higher. Tripels have the added benefit of higher alcohol, allowing them to stand up to even the richest meats and sides. They clear it all away and finish very dry, leaving your palate refreshed and ready for more.
I like the examples from Belgium. They tend to be less sweet than American versions. Westmalle Tripel is the original, and I think still the best. It’s one of the world’s great beers. Other go-tos are St. Bernardus Tripel, Chimay Cinq Cents (white label), and La Trappe Tripel.
Schwarzbier is a black lager beer from Germany. It has body, alcohol strength and dry finish similar to a pilsner, but with a touch of roasted malt, giving it a smooth, subtle coffee or bitter chocolate edge. In beer/food flavor interactions, roast calms protein and plays up salt and smoke. A schwarzbier emphasizes the cured character of ham. The result tastes so quintessentially “German” it will have you donning dirndls and lederhosen.
Roasted malts bring a bit of bitterness that will calm the acidity of deviled eggs, allowing the flavor of the actual egg to come through. It also plays well with the piquancy of moldy blue cheese. Add a light touch of blue cheese to your potatoes or macaroni to make this pairing sing.
There aren’t many schwarzbier options available in the Twin Cities. Stargrazer from Bauhaus Brewlabs in northeast Minneapolis is a good starting place. Köstritzer Schwarzbier is a classic example from Germany.
If you like roasted lamb on Easter, go for a Flemish red ale. This complex, wood-aged beer from the Flanders region of Belgium has a sweet and sour profile defined by the flavors of dark cherries and balsamic vinegar. This is a wine lover’s beer, with acidity and fruitiness that is almost more reminiscent of wine than beer.
The acidity of Flemish reds, a kind of sour beer, works to clear away fats while boosting the savory, meaty umami taste of lamb. Sweeter dark cherry notes work like a fruit sauce, the contrast further amplifying the savoriness of the meat.
The relationship is similar with the potatoes and mac and cheese. Acidity cuts while fruity sweetness boosts. Make your dish with flavorful cheeses like Gruyère, French Comté and a touch of Gorgonzola to make the pairing even more spectacular.
You might expect a sour beer to make deviled eggs unpalatably sour. But when pairing beer, acid calms acid. The two actually tone each other down, creating a gentle and seamless melding of vinegar and vinegar.
The two beers to look for in this style are Rodenbach Grand Cru and Duchesse de Bourgogne. Cuvee de Jacobins is also a great choice, with a more pronounced acidity.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.