There are few things in life that make me happier than a great big, perfectly cooked porterhouse steak. For your reference, perfectly cooked in Beerford’s world means that magical place between medium and medium-rare that my dearly departed godmother used to call, “pink, juicy and beautiful.” It is broadly accepted that the correct wine to pair with a big steak is a big red (cabernet, zinfandel, etc.). However the “correct” beer to pair with a massive hunk of well-aged beef is a subject of somewhat more debate. Some folks would argue that a strong ale or barleywine is the right call, some would push for a big, hoppy IPA, and some would advocate an imperial stout or porter. In fact, at the end of the day you’ll find an argument for virtually every beer style. Clearly, the expertise of the Aleheads is needed to resolve this issue!
So, gentlemen, I give you Beerford’s Conundrum – Porterhouse Edition: What beer style would make the best partner for a porterhouse steak? For the purposes of this discussion, assume it’s grass-fed, appropriately aged, and prepared simply on a griddle with salt and cracked pepper. I’m looking for the best beer-style, and a specific American craft brew example to go along with it.
BROTHER BARLEY MCHOPS
I suppose I’ll bat lead-off on this one as I did with the inaugural Conundrum. The others like to wait for me to write first so they can use up half of their responses ripping mine to shreds. It’s my lot in life as the official martyr of the Aleheads. Also, everyone else likes to actually put thought into their answers while I prefer to just grip it and rip it (for a good example, read any post I’ve ever written).
Now then…food and beer. Beer and food. Hmm…
The truth is, for as pretentious as I can be when writing Tasting Notes or mocking the BudMillerCoors drinkers of the world, when it comes to beer and food pairings I’m an unsophisticated heathen.*
*Note: I only mock BudMillerCoors drinkers who refuse to try other beers. If you’ve sampled all that the beer world has to offer and you still prefer the big-name American Pale Lagers, more power to you. I just hate that Aleheads are labeled “pedantic” for trying to broaden people’s horizons. If you only ate McDonald’s food and never considered tasting the fare at a “real” restaurant, wouldn’t that be cause for mockery? What’s the difference between that person and someone who only drinks Bud Light and refuses to try other beers? Those people remind me of a 3-year-old who only eats hot dogs. “Don’t you want to try this pasta?” “No, I hate pasta!” “How do you know if you’ve never tried it?” “Waaaaah!” Yes, I’m comparing Bud Light drinkers to whiny toddlers.
I’m the sort of restaurant patron who orders whatever drink I’m in the mood for with no thought for how it pairs with my food. I drink bourbon with fish. Scotch with salad. And beer of all stripes with food of all stripes. In my opinion, if the drink is tasty and the food is tasty…well, then that’s a good pairing.
Still, I recognize that this approach is uninformed and that I’m probably missing out on a host of sensory delights. The problem, as has been mentioned on our site before, is that I’m the only Alehead that has never developed an appreciation for wine. Perhaps “appreciation” isn’t the right word since I really do appreciate why others love wine in all its varied forms. But the truth is, I simply don’t like it. The fundamental flavor of wine doesn’t interest me and no matter how many times I try to learn to love it, I fail. Since wine is the ultimate food-pairing beverage, I suppose it should come as no surprise that I’m particularly ignorant when it comes to meshing food and drink symbiotically.
None of this yammering answers the Conundrum…I’m just trying to explain that my response needs to be taken with a massive grain of salt. While I put a lot of thought (actually, way too much) into what I’m drinking, it’s never in relation to the food I’m eating. So what beer goes best with a nice porterhouse? I honestly don’t know. I’m flying blind here, but into the breach I go…
A great steak has a rich, powerful, intoxicating aroma and flavor. You need a beer that can stand up to that power which means we’re eliminating the more delicate, “basic” styles like Pale Ales, Brown Ales, Ambers, and pretty much any wheat beer. But you also don’t want a beer that will completely drown out the flavor of the steak like an uber-hopped Double IPA or Russian Imperial, or an overwhelmingly malty Barleywine, Quad, or Old Ale. You need a brew that is subtle but full-flavored, complex but accessible, and (in my opinion) one that has just enough tart sourness to function like wine, stimulate your salivary glands, and bring out the best that the grilled meat has to offer. I vacillated between two great Flemish styles that fit the bill…the Flanders Red (often called the most “wine-like” of beers) and the Flanders Oud Bruin. Ultimately, I selected the Oud Bruin for its fuller body. While a Flanders Red would probably pair very well with steak, the Oud Bruin has a more substantial malt bill giving it a richer mouthfeel which should hold up better to the hunk of meat Beerford conjured up.
Oud Bruins are sour and spicy with a good, sweet malt backbone and very little hop bitterness. Like Flanders Reds, they have a definite vinous character, plus a subtle, but distinct oak aroma and flavor. Sounds like the perfect complement for a steak to me. Beerford also asked for an American representative of the style and, fortunately for me, one of our favorite new ale factories, The Bruery, makes a phenomenal one: The Oude Tart. Sour, fruity, sweet, woody, and tart as the name implies…the Oude Tart would be a perfect companion to Beerford’s steak. I may be a heathen when it comes to beer/food pairings, but even heathens can pick a winner every now and then.
SIR MAGNUS SKULLSPLITTER
The term porterhouse steak, like most awesome things in this world, originally comes from New York City. The word is believed to have evolved from a dish served at a popular New York City porter-house in the early 19th century. With both the New York Strip and the Filet Mignon, it is an extremely ambitious cut of meat, and you really haven’t lived until you’ve seen someone put away a 48 oz. version in a single sitting.
Brother Barley once again shows his versatility and genius when breaking down exactly what we’re looking for here. When thinking of different beers to match with a porterhouse steak, you certainly need something that stand up to the flavor of the meat. Big, bold flavors are required here, but without the tastebud-burning sensation that overly hopped beers can create. Brother Barley’s choice of a Flemish sour is relatively inspired for this particular conundrum.
However, there is a slight problem with this whole exercise. Beerford claims that he wants a beer to pair with his “medium to medium-rare” steak. These words don’t make any sense to my easily-addled brain. It is common knowledge that the longer you apply heat to a steak, the more juice and flavor you cook out of the meat. Sure, a Flemish sour might stand up to some overcooked, underflavored piece of beef, but the porterhouse steak was meant to be served bloody. It’s a steak, for godsakes, not some piece of poultry you have to blast the salmonella out of. Throw it in on a hot grill, let the outside char, let it rest, slice it up. That’s all there is to it. Leaving it on the grill just lets all that juiciness evaporate. Thus, though the Flemish sour may work for some overcooked, bland piece of meat, when cooked properly the porterhouse requires a beer that can truly stand up to its overpoweringly flavorful goodness.
I am a simple Scotsman. My people have been eating roasted meat over a spit with little in the way of “seasoning” or “outside flavor” for over a thousand years. If I want to drink something with my glorious slab of beef, I’m taking a sharp single malt over pretty much anything. However, since that’s not the conundrum, I will have to take the next best thing. If I can’t have scotch, I’ll take a scotch ale — a Wee Heavy, to be precise. And if I’m going to take a scotch ale, I’m taking the best I know: Founders’ Dirty Bastard. The roasted malts, the peatiness, a little bit of sweetness, and just enough hops on the back end to make it interesting without burning off your taste buds.
Sure, you can call me a shill for Founders. You can call me biased towards all things Scottish. Just don’t call me late for steak. You can thank me later.
I’m back in the saddle again, tackling a conundrum just as challenging, if thus far less contentious, than our Perfect Black and Tan debate. Like Brother Barley I too must admit that this topic is somewhat outside my wheelhouse. As a monthly passholder aboard his “this food good – this beer good – me eat food drink beer now” Paleolithic thought-train, I seldom give sufficient consideration to the order or pairing of the fine beers this country’s brewers put so much effort into providing me. Yet simians must evolve or perish, and I will attempt to do so here and now.
Breaking from Beerford’s Conundra tradition, I will dispense with the good natured ball-busting of my prior contributors, and instead critique an Alehead who has yet to submit a response: Baron Sudsy Von Brue. Sudsy, your submission with its flowery prose, obscure literary references, and overall pedantic and condescending tone enrages me, and serves only to obscure the considerable value your refined palate brings to bear upon this subject. Likewise, you know in your heart of hearts that Magnus is playing provocateur with his absurd suggestion that the etymology of the cut in question stems from anywhere but Porter Square in Cambridge. It’s time to be the bigger Baron, and just answer the fucking question.
And now, to the beer! As Beerford notes in his prologue, the “correct” wine to pair with a Porterhouse steak is a “Big Red”. The grapes to choose from include Cabernet, Malbec, even Shiraz. More importantly, the qualities of the ideal wine are invariably bold flavors with notes of dark fruit and spice, heavily tannic, and of a rich mouthfeel that will stand up to the hearty meat. This is not a time for subtlety. The phrase “never bring a knife to a gunfight” seems applicable, and I have Four guns, one for each of you.
Thus, it’s time to call down the thunder, the “Big Red” of the beer world: the Quadrupel, or “Quads” as they are affectionately known amongst Aleheads, are strong dark ales inspired by the classic creations of Trappist monasteries in Belgium such as Westvleteren and and Rochefort. Spicy, bold, fruity flavors? Check. Rich and lush mouthfeel? Check. In addition, the massive head and resolute lacing of this style is perfect for a prolonged enjoyable meal. The high alcohol content ensures that the inane conversation of your fellow Aleheads at the table is easier to bear, and that the beer will continue to gain complexity and nuance as it warms towards room temperature.
There are many fine Belgian Quads, but our exercise requires an American candidate, some of the best of which I admittedly have never had the good fortune to sample. But here is my suggestion: obtain a ridiculously large goblet or chalice, preferably gold-leafed, for your perfect steak meal. Five minutes before the Porterhouses come off the grill, pop the cork and fill from the bomber of Allagash Four that’s been collecting dust in your cellar the past two years, you naughty little hoarder. The Four is the rare gimmick that succeeds despite pretentions: four hop varieties, four malts, four sugars, fermented four times, resulting in an outstanding and balanced American Quad with the sweet malty backbone the big beef requires, but with an understated hoppy bitterness that we Aleheads love. Kick up your feet, and revel in the good life; this is why the terrorists hate us… all the more reason to soak it up tonight.
BARON SUDSY VON BRUE
Well done, boys, well done. This is exactly the type of inspired, long-winded tripe that Aleheads Nation has come to know and love. Preemptive disclaimers, heartfelt appeals, and even a dash of good ol’ bat-shit insanity thrown in for good measure. It has been predicted that your Baron might weigh in on the etymology of the name “porterhouse,” which has been the subject of much internal debate, but I would rather join my brother Magnus in his condemnation of “medium to medium-rare” steak than oppose his patently absurd suggestion that the loving marriage of short loin and tenderloin was named for anyone other than Zachariah Porter of Porter Square, Cambridge. “Walk it through a warm room” is as instructive as a beef enthusiast ever need be, lest the flavor-rich collagen, limited already in the cut, melt out of the muscle and ruin an otherwise dignified evening.
What to pair with our NAMP 1173? A brew befitting the smoky, meaty goodness that made this nation great: The Angel’s Share Bourbon Barrel-Aged American Strong Ale from The Lost Abbey. Rich aromas of molasses, bourbon, and oak square dance amongst notes of charred flesh; Mellow, complex flavors of dark fruits, caramel, and booze play on the tongue amidst a culinary Bacchanalia of smoky, juicy, peppery moo cow; All is right in the world. Not too effervescent, not too sweet, this sophisticated offering, like a fine wine, evolves as it oxidizes, warms, and complements your gently-cooling beef: A strapping brew befitting a masculine meal.
At 12% ABV, you’ll continue to sip long after the meat has been reduced to a blood stain on your plate, musing the origins of this most American of dishes. Answers will be few – the history itself is too scarce to substantiate a conclusion – but, at evening’s end, one thing will remain certain: Flowery Branch, Georgia had nothing to do with the glorious end product.
DR. RIPPED VAN DRINKALE III
So far you’ve received a lot of factoids, statements, and various hullabaloo about why you should choose a big red for your beef and maybe even why you should pick a particular American beer instead. Is this useful information? That I can’t answer. What I can tell you is that everything you’ve just read is on the right track but what you end up with is nothing more than a fine après-dinner drink. Are these great beers you’ve just read about? Of course, and I would without hesitation drink any one of them right now (Except that I’m at work and can only take nips from a flask when no one is watching). What you want to pair with your Porterhouse though is something bold, something befitting the king of steaks, but at the same time something reserved enough as not to overpower your decadent slice o’ cow. I give you Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron Brown Ale.
First, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this is just your ordinary Brown Ale. No, the Palo Santo is a Brown Ale that’s been amped up to 12% ABV and given an opportunity to soak up some smokey, woody characteristics that you’ll rarely find in the world of beer. I think the virtues of the Palo Santo Brown Ale are best served by tearing down the competition just a tad. First, I love the Dirty Bastard from Founders and think the idea of a Scotch Ale is almost perfect for a steak of this caliber, but the sweetness that hits you up front is just too much for the richness of your meat. That’s the same reason I can’t endorse the Four from Allagash (For this experiment, everything else gets full endorsement). Phenomenal brew, but the sweetness of the Quad gets lost among the flavors of your Porterhouse and at the end of the day the two should lay on separate ends of the table. The Angel’s Share is on the right track, but that’s one powerful brew that might be better paired with a lesser cut of beef. Not a knock on the beer, simply too strong of a pairing to appreciate the meal as a whole. The Oude Tart seems like a great entry in theory, however, I think the Porterhouse would just crush the subtleties of that precious little gem. I can’t see myself picking up the beautiful sour/tart/fruity notes of the beer when I’m immersed in a bath of juicy red meat.
My choice takes the best characteristics of each of the previous entries and spits out the perfect pairing for your Porterhouse. Malty sweetness at its core, but this is masked my an almost bready character that covers up any sugary tastes associated with a Quad or other Belgian style brews. Smokiness is present throughout, which is impressive for a 12% brew. Speaking of the alcohol, I think that’s important for a beer to pair well with a good cut of beef and that’s the sole reason that I gravitate toward boozy Zinfandels when I’m eating out at top of the line steakhouses. Nothing cuts through richness like a punch of alcohol in the front, middle, and back of your drink. Same reason I usually have a Manhattan as soon as I sit down since the Bourbon helps set up my tongue for the approaching meal. Back to the beer though. What the Palo Santo Brown Ale brings that no other beer can is a dry, woody teaser that’s finished off by a highly viscous pour. This is just plain, old-fashioned, wood-aging that brings this beer more in line with the wine world than anything else.
That’s my take on this conundrum, so do yourself a favor and pair any of my fellow Aleheads’ entries with the finest T-Bone that Denny’s has to offer. For my Porterhouse, I’ll see what Brown can do for me.
As you can see, it appears that the Aleheads are no more ready to come to a consensus on this issue than the rest of the beer drinking world, other than the consensus that I tend to overcook my steaks. However there were certainly a few common themes in the above responses. The group consistently gravitated toward higher gravity offerings, and away from simple lagers or pale ales that wouldn’t stand up well to the bold flavors of this big steak. Bourbon and scotch notes were mentioned more than once (and to be perfectly honest, you’re at least as likely to see me with a glass of bourbon in hand along with my steak as with a pint), as was wood-aging. Still, given all of these highly tenable suggestions, I think the only possible path toward resolving this conundrum is to pick up half a dozen porterhouses, fire up the grill, and start drinking. I certainly intend to.