By Kevin Patterson and Tres Watson
Welcome Central Kentucky to the second half of summer!
You know, not the first part when the frenzied pace of school ending, summer vacations, trips to the pool and all the summery things that keep us off schedule; rather the second part when our attention turns to back to school specials, “I’m bored” proclamations from preteens and an avoidance of summer heat at all cost.
This second half of summer begins with the 4th of July celebrations and all those backyard barbecues, fireworks and the pretension that we actually enjoyed the 104-degree heat. But now it’s now the time when schedules begin to moderate and we find comforts in the simple joys of our own backyards.
Many of those little gems are found at our local farmers market. This means that we’re talking largely about all the locally grown produce that’s bursting with flavor in later summer. But if you think that it’s time to put the grill away or stow the beer steins, then think again! The ideas to pair bratwurst with Oktoberfest beers or pizza with pilsner are easy, but the earthy, rich and ripe flavors of all the greens in the garden beg for the same attention. This is much to the delight of the vegetarians, go-green proponents and think local proprietors out there; but don’t underestimate their complementary power to beer.
Greens are in full bloom right now as they soak up the sun from above and all the earthy richness from below. A quick rinse, cut and tossed into the bowl should cause you to reach for a sudsy solution. A combination of spinach, mustard, chard, bean sprouts and arugula seem a fine complement to the sweet fruit flavors that are found in hefeweizens and American wheats. But taking on more of a margherita pizza attitude by throwing in a few fresh basil leaves, zesty tomatoes, oregano, finely grated garlic and a few cubes of tangy goat cheese from your local cheese producer will demand more flavor companionship from the glass.
May we suggest a fine French Biere de Garde such as de Gayant Goudale – an effervescent Belgianesque ale with full pilsner malt body, mild fruit-pepper balance, light herbal bitterness, and slight white wine undertones. You’ll find that the earthy sweetness of the beer pulls the richer taste from the vegetables and settles into the cheese nicely. Understated bitterness from the beer adds complexity to similar flavors of the greens and herbs while lifting the oils of a fine olive oil and balsamic dressing. The carbonation leaves the palate refreshed to ensure that every bite is as flavorful as the first.
Rounding out the dinner table into the widely available red and white vegetables, we can’t rule out a colder fused salad of ceviche with a pickled zesty quality. With a base of fine white wine vinegar, lemon juice and perhaps gueuze ale, a toss of fresh beets, white onion and corn provides a deeply earthen salad to start the meal or as a side to hot dishes. Zested with cilantro and chopped jalapeno and beefed up with shrimp (for a nonvegetarian option) – an overnight brine will develop into rich and tangy flavors that beg for the dry wine-ish counterpart of Flemish red ale. Spontaneously fermented in the Flanders region of Belgium, these beers develop a similarly rich twang of balsamic, oak, grape, and cherry that will join the flavors in the dish as well as if the recipe had included it in its brine.
While rich pasta dishes seem such a fuss this time of year, a substitution of the vibrant purple eggplant shouldn’t be missed. The nutrient rich and hearty-growing eggplant fits right at home on the dinner platter when combined with tomato-based sauce and parmesan cheese. Voila! We have eggplant parmesan.
While the mild flavors and melded texture of the vegetable may seem hardly worth celebrating, a quick grill of the slats will dry the eggplant to firm their texture, concentrate thier flavor and give a mild meaty char to the overall dish. While lighter spiced dishes may provoke a side arm of amber lager, a spicier and more acidic version may need more punch.
Go with American amber ales or medium-sweet pale ales for real cutting power. Bairds Rising Sun pale ale is Japanese brewed but English inspired and meets the demands of a wide range of spice variations in the dish. The caramel-sweet taste of malt will dissolve nicely onto the palate along side of the sweetness of tomato fruit and bring rise to the meaty impressions of the charred eggplant. The spices of the dish are extended by the broad hop bitterness of the earthy British-style ale. Lighter than usual carbonation allows the beer and cheese to meld effortlessly on the tongue but still has the cutting power of alcohol to strip the oils from the mouth with refreshment and delight.
Remember that grill? Then fire it up! But this time it’s not for the beef or tuna steaks, it’s for desert. A very course chop of apples, cantaloupe, pears, paw paws and plums thrown onto the hot grate will develop concentrated sugars and break down the fibers of the fruit, which will seep into whole vanilla bean ice cream for a tangy and savory interplay of hot and cold. But first, brush the fruit with melted butter and sprinkle with a simple brown sugar and cinnamon mixture and the flavors become even more sultry and sweet.
Shared at the table with a rich yet quenching Franziskaner Hefe Weiss, the sweetness of the beer accents that of the fruit and provides a natural acidic interplay that melds well with the fruit. Creaminess of carbonation and starch from the beer also bridges nicely into the rich textures of ice cream. With low bitterness and the cutting power of modest alcohol, a light minty cooling mouthfeel exudes onto the palate with remarkable refreshment.
The combinations are endless. Vegetable skewers dressed with Italian dressing and peppercorn matched with Hitachino Nest Niponia (a hoppy Belgian-style Saison); raspberry sorbet paired with Southern Tier Mokah Stout (coffee and chocolate infused dark ale); or a broccoli, okra, Brussels sprout and corn medley with a briny and bitter de Koninck (an acidic Belgian pale ale) all deserve the palate’s attention while the gettin’ is good. It’s worth keeping in mind that the pairing of beers doesn’t stop with the carnivorous selections. The specific flavors that are the handiwork of farmers and Mother Nature deserve every bit as much considerate with fine ale and lager complements.
We’d like to extend a special thanks to Lexington Farmers Market for help in the understanding of crop cycles of these and other vegetables that are offered this and each time of the year. Please consider your own local farmers market when planning your next meal for unique and exciting options.
Kevin Patterson is the resident beer guide and manager at the Beer Trappe on Euclid Avenue. He is an Army veteran and formerly worked in the architecture profession before taking his love of craft beer into the occupation ranks. Patterson also is a nationally ranked Beer Judge Certification Program beer judge and a Cicerone Certified Beer Server (Cicerones are to beer what sommeliers are to wine.) Throughout the course of his career, he has reviewed 2,800 different beers, judged in more than 100 competitions and festivals, and co-written many articles on the beer culture. He has lived in Lexington for 17 years.
Tres Watson, a graduate of Centre College, is a senior account representative at Peritus, a public relations firm. Before moving to Lexington, he created and directed the 2004 Border Beer Bust in Augusta, Ga., which featured nearly 200 beers and drew 5,000 attendees over two days. Watson is an avid beer drinker and a particular fan of IPAs. He and his wife, Laura, live in Lexington, are members of the Lexington Beer Aficionados, and can frequently be found at Pazzo’s or the Beer Trappe.