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How to pair beer with food on St. Patrick's Day

Wednesday - 3/14/2012, 3:56am  ET

beer Guinness (Courtesy of fotopedia/Flickr/puamelia)
Guinness is the choice for some on St. Patrick's Day. (Courtesy of fotopedia/Flickr/puamelia)

Nathan Hager, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The green beer will flow this Saturday for St. Patrick's Day. For more sophisticated palates, a pint or two of Guinness Dark Stout or Smithwick's Red Ale could be on tap.

But the classic brews of the Emerald Isle might not make the best complements to the Irish meals many Americans look forward to every March 17.

Like wine, beers can be paired with food. And American beers may go just as well, if not better, with corned beef and cabbage than brews from the land of Blarney.

"Any time you're going to pair, you want to treat the craft beer, in this case, as an ingredient," says Julia Herz, the craft beer program director at the Brewers Association.

"You want the craft beer to not overwhelm the food, and you want the food to not overwhelm the craft beer in flavors or intensity."

For traditional Irish stews with lamb or mutton, Herz recommends American brown, amber or pale ales to complement the browned meats and sauces. She also thinks German style lagers, such as Gordon Biersch's Vienna Lager, would set off the flavors of a good Irish stew.

As for corned beef and cabbage, the saltiness infused in the beef calls for a beer that's more acidic. Herz says the Belgian style pale ale from DC Brau might hit the spot next to that brined cut of beef.

But if you can't bear to part with your dry Irish stout as you sit down to dinner, there's no shame in it.

"You don't have to have highways to heaven all the time with pairing. People can enjoy any beer with any food, and they can experiment and what they find works best together, they should stick with it," says Herz.

Apart from St. Patrick's Day, people are opening up to the possibilities of beer and food pairings and finding it's not just a wine thing.

"Craft beer helped beer reclaim its place at the dinner table," says Herz.

The Brewers Association has documented 140 different styles of beer and more than 13,000 different brands in the U.S., not counting the homegrown recipes on tap at brew pubs.

"These are historic beer times for all of us," says Herz.

And this weekend, all of us are Irish. That goes for what's on tap, too.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)