Why Beer Pairings Are The New Wine Pairings

Beer pairings are the new wine pairings at fine dining restaurants and beyond

Tørst isn't your typical beer bar. There aren't TV screens broadcasting 50 different sports games, no sticky floors or linoleum counters. And the back room doesn't house ripped billiard tables or beheaded foosball players—it has a 16-seat, Michelin-starred, tasting menu-only restaurant.

To see a Michelin star outside a restaurant is to assume you can tack on a hundred-dollar wine pairing. But at three-year-old Luksus in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood, owners Daniel Burns and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø are putting a cork in those stereotypes. It's the first Michelin-starred restaurant with a beer-pairing option—and only beer at that. At Luksus, you're served anywhere from 12 to 15 servings (which might include up to eight "snacks") and a beer to match. These smaller bites might include bright sorrel dip with crunchy radishes (see the recipe) paired with an easygoing pale ale to balance the earthiness, or pickled fiddlehead ferns with a French farmhouse ale.

"There's this stigma that beer is such a common or peasant thing," Burns explains. "But with how many great craft brewers there are this day and age, it's legitimately a beverage."

Wine might have a more established foothold on fine dining menus, but a strong case can be made for beer pairings. It's one that is highlighted in Burns and Jarnit-Bjergsø's new book, Food & Beer ($50). This isn't a typical chef-forward book though: "We wanted it to be a reference, and in five, 10 years still be relevant," Burns says. It's written as a conversation between the two, as they explore 10 flavor profiles present in both the food that Burns cooks and the beer that Jarnit-Bjergsø curates.

And the conversation is growing in volume even past the book's pages. While one-off beer dinners are nothing new, their frequency has increased, and bartenders aren't shying away. "Even at the fanciest meals, where the sommelier can buy any wine in the world, he's still thinking about what beer to pair with certain dishes," Burns adds. Eleven Madison Park threw a beer-based bash when it debuted Brooklyn Brewery's beer on its menu. Five years have passed, and it still collaborates with the brewery—and has even added beer from gypsy brewer Jarnit-Bjergsø's Evil Twin to the menu at sister restaurant The NoMad.

Luksus's signature beer glass; a tap handle at Tørst

Jared Rouben, brewmaster of Chicago culinary beer-focused brewery Moody Tongue, is another advocate of pairing fine dining with beer. He says, "People find beer and food pairing fascinating, but they don't know where to begin. . . . French food has all the possibilities to pair. There's cheese everywhere. Beer and cheese: That's something we know a lot about."

If this all sounds similar to wine pairing, that's because it is. There's even a system analogous to becoming a master sommelier, in which you can become Cicerone certified through a series of examinations. But where wine is tied to factors like grape type, terroir and tradition, beer making depends on the brewer's imagination and hops from anywhere in the world, Burns says. And while some ingredients are notoriously tricky to pair with wine ("Garlic is a nemesis of somms," Rouben jokes), it's anything goes for beer. "With so many styles and substyles to work with, no food is too fussy," Adam Vavrick, beer director at The Publican in Chicago, says. The carbonation in beer helps refresh your palate, much like Champagne does, Rouben teaches.

When creating a menu, Burns begins with food and then chooses the beer, but for Vavrick, it's a 50/50 split: "Sometimes I'll taste a beer and think, Holy crap, I want to drink this with a pork cheek, while other times, I'll pick a beer based on the dish itself."

Rouben's method involves first trying the beer, then tasting the food, and then tasting the beer once more to remind his palate. "We start to break down flavors and aromatics that would be similar to food," he explains, in a process known as "bridging." This might include using the bitterness of an IPA to cut through the richness of braised pork or a fruit-forward beer to complement a stone fruit glaze.

Burns is hopeful that more fine dining restaurants will experiment with beer pairings.

"This is our big question: Why can't it fit into that structure?" Burns challenges. "You go to dinner, and you have a martini, Champagne and wine, so why not?"

Find Tørst here, or in our DINE app.
Find Luksus here, or in our DINE app.
Find Eleven Madison Park here, or in our DINE app.
Find The NoMad here, or in our DINE app.
Find The Publican here, or in our DINE app.