Harpoon’s Brewmaster Shows How to Pair Any Food With the Best Beer

RealClearLife talks fine food and beer pairings with Harpoon's brewmaster, Al Marzi.

August 29, 2017 5:00 am
Food and Beer Pairing with Harpoon's Brewmaster
Harpoon Brewery's brewmaster Al Marzi (Courtesy of Harpoon Brewery)

If you frequent Michelin-starred restaurants, you know that their wine-lists don’t get amazing by accident. They usually have an in-house sommelier, whose sole job is to understand the finer points of pinots and chards—and know how to pair them well with all the chef’s specialties.

There also is such a thing as a certified beer steward or Cicerone. But you don’t have to spend years of training to find the perfect beer for your meal.

“I certainly think of [beer and food pairing] as more of an art than a science,” Al Marzi, brewmaster at Boston-based Harpoon Brewery, told RealClearLife. “But I guess you could look at it as a science from the standpoint that it requires experimentation.”

And by that, the best in the business have to sit around and try a bunch of different beers and fine foods—which from where we’re sitting doesn’t sound all that bad. In fact, it sounds downright heaven-like.

We asked Marzi to demystify beer and food pairings. We’ve put together a primer below based on his recommendations. All his picks on Harpoon beers, but you can use your favorite microbrews done in a similar style as a substitute.

Food and Beer Pairing with Harpoon's Brewmaster
There are multiple options for pairing a beer with chicken tikka masala, but one should always land on complementary or contrasting beers. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Rules and Keg-ulations
Because beer-and-food pairing is so experimentation-friendly, one could easily fake the entire thing. But Marzi feels that there should be at least some stuck-to rules involved. “Ultimately, I think you’re looking for some balance between the food and the beer, but the way you achieve that balance can happen in a couple of different ways,” he says. How is this achieved? By pairing flavors that contrast or complement each other. For example, if you tend toward spicy foods like Indian or Thai, you can pair your chicken tikka masala or pad thai with a “light, crisp beer that refreshes your palate from all that spiciness.” Or just go ahead and feel the burn, pairing it with a “big, hoppy IPA—a flavor bomb in your mouth.” Another easy way to complement a beer and food? Using the beer in an actual recipe (see: Guinness stew).

Beer and Food Pairing with Harpoon's Brewmaster Al Marzi
(Peter Andrew Bosch/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)

Wine and Cheese Forever? Think Again.
“One of the nice things about beer is because of the carbonation, it lifts [a strong flavor] off your palate, so it isn’t necessarily overwhelming,” says Marzi. At least in the Harpoon brewmaster’s opinion, this exposes one of the greatest lies in the history of the food world: that wine goes best with cheese. Not so argues Marzi. “Beer works better with cheese primarily because of the carbonation,” he explains. “If you’re having a cheese that’s got a texture—like a gouda or a brie—that tends to coat your mouth, the flavors of the wine can’t get through because you’ve coated your mouth with this delicious cheese,” he continues. “Beer can cut through that with carbonation.” (Marzi does note that one experiment involving a smokey cheese didn’t go so hot with a smokey flavored beer.)

(Beer) Match Made in Heaven
Marzi provided us with some actual intel, involving some Harpoon’s finest flavors. Feel free to swap out your favorite label’s equivalent with any of the suggestions below:

Food and Beer Pairing with Harpoon's Brewmaster
Oysters on the half shell (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Witbier-style beer or a Hefeweizen
Both UFO White (which has orange peel and coriander notes) and UFO Hefeweizen (usually served with a slice of lemon) are perfect matches for any seafood—like oysters on a half shell or battered haddock. Speaking of oysters, they also somewhat surprisingly tend to go well with stouts, says Marzi. In fact, Harpoon even went so far as to produce batches of Island Creek Oyster Stout back in 2010 and 2011. “The salinity of the oyster goes really well with some of the darker malts in a stout,” notes Marzi.

Food and Beer Pairing with Harpoon Brewmaster Al Marzi
UFO White, straight from the tap (Courtesy of Harpoon Brewery)

Lobster and crab
Kölsch-style ale
We’re aware that lobster and crab are seafood, but we felt like they deserved their own heading. They’re also highly versatile; lobster and crab can be enjoyed with one’s sleeves rolled up on the side of a dock or in the highest-end restaurants on the planet. “Lobster, unless you completely soak it in butter, tends to be rather delicate in terms of flavor,” notes Marzi. “I would go with our House Golden, which is a Kölsch-style ale [and] is crisp, clean, and refreshing; and really wouldn’t get in the way of the lobster or crab.” UFO White is also a solid shellfish sidecar, as it has a hint of citrus in it.

Food and Beer Pairing with Harpoon's Brewmaster
George Lazenby as James Bond in disguise, confronts Telly Savalas as Ernest Stavro Blofeld in a scene from the film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,’ 1969. (United Artist/Getty Images)

India pale ale
In Thunderball, James Bond indulges in some beluga caviar paired with a bottle of Dom Pérignon (the British spy also enjoys the delicacy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, A View to a Kill, The World Is Not Enough, and Casino Royale—the version starring Daniel Craig). That said, caviar doesn’t have to always go with a high-end champagne. Says Marzi: “I would probably go with the Harpoon IPA. It’s got enough bitterness to help cleanse some of that saltiness, but it’s not a huge smash-in-the-face IPA that’s going to overwhelm what you’re having.” He followed that by suggesting to RealClearLife, “If you want to get some caviar and come down here, we can totally experiment.”

Oktoberfest-style beer or amber ale
Harpoon Octoberfest and Harpoon Flannel Friday—both out this fall—pair surprisingly well with anything porcine. “Pork tends to be a little sweeter, [so] having something that has a little bit of maltiness to it goes incredibly well [with it].”

Turkey, Stuffing, and Cranberry
Fruit beer
No, that’s not a misprint. Another one of Harpoon’s fall releases will be UFO Cranbeery, which features 60 gallons of Ocean Spray cranberry per batch brewed, giving in a signature tartness. At least in our opinion, it also happened to have Thanksgiving written all over it. Any tips for post–Turkey Day pairings? “You’re probably making an amazingly too-large sandwich that has fresh cranberries on it, that’s going to go incredibly well with the UFO Cranbeery,” Marzi says.

Food and Pairing with Harpoon's Brewmaster
(Photo By Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

Winter Warmer-style beer or Irish stout
Harpoon’s Winter Warmer, which has a cinnamon-y and nutmeg-y taste, pairs up well with pumpkin pie. “Sometimes, it’s considered to be liquid pumpkin pie,” quips Marzi. Harpoon’s nitrogenated Boston Irish Stout can also be served with chocolate cake.

Food and Beer Pairing with Harpoon's Brewmaster
(Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images)

Additional Knowledge to Tap
If you’re the bookish type, Marzi suggests a couple of options for those interested in taking beer-and-food pairing to the next level. One such tome is The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food by Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery fame. Another oldie but goodie is Peter LaFrance’s Cooking & Eating with Beer: 50 Chefs, Brewmasters, and Restauranteurs Talk About Beer and Food. But these days, he notes, the internet has a glut of helpful advice, too. (Here’s one fantastic resource we found on our first try.)


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