Beer and Meat

Kate and William. Hepburn and Tracy. John and Yoko. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. Jay-Z and Beyonce. Victoria and Albert. Beer and meat. All perfect pairs.

There are so many happy couples in the extended meat family: beer and burgers. Beer and barbecue. Beer and brisket. Beer and beef. Beer and bacon. Alas, Rogue Brewing went too far in marrying beer and bacon in their Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale. Some relationships are not meant to be.

Beer and meat go way back. These two have been giving knowing looks across the table for way longer than Brad and Angelina. An archeological dig of the tomb of King Midas from 700 B.C. found bowls of lamb stew and mugs with residue of a barley-based substance — beer! Dogfish Head Brewing worked with an archaeologist to recreate the ancient beer. Their Midas Touch beer uses barley, honey, grapes and saffron to make a modern brew fit for an ancient king, perfect with lamb stew.

Edmonton’s love of meat never falters, and beer is close to Edmontonian’s hearts, yet few restaurants beyond the Sugarbowl are matchmakers, bringing meat and good beer together at the table. In Detroit this spring, I dined at two outstanding places that understand the beauty of meat and beer together.

Slows Bar-B-Q in Corktown serves meaty fare like pulled pork and dry-smoked ribs, along with a few dozen craft beer on tap. Roast is an upscale restaurant in hardscrabble downtown Detroit. Diners are given a “Beer List for the Wine Enthusiast” with beers recommended as pairs with steak and other meat options. They have become successful destination restaurants, drawing people from miles around.

If struggling Detroit can do it, why can’t booming Edmonton? We can. There are three guys who get it, who understand that meat and beer belong together. These three guys opened Three Boars on 109 Street this spring. Chuck Elves is the beer guy, before Three Boars plying his trade just up the street at beer pioneer the Sugarbowl, as did chef Brayden Kozak. Brian Welch completed the trio, bringing his numbers expertise.

Three Boars is a tiny man-cave, with a bustling kitchen and busy bar downstairs and a small, quieter dining room upstairs, rustic cabin decor throughout. The chalkboard with today’s beer offerings makes clear Three Boars’ focus: meat and beer.

“We were thinking about what isn’t done in Edmonton and what is done poorly,” said Chuck Elves. “Beer is one place where we saw a huge gap. There are not a lot of places that do a good job of beer.”

And Three Boars does a good job of beer indeed. Space restrictions meant only six beer taps were possible, but Elves works some malty magic. Two taps are reserved for local faves Alley Kat Full Moon Pale Ale and Yellowhead Lager, while an array of different beers rotate through the remaining taps — whatever fits the season, the ever-changing food menu or anything new and interesting. “I know what I want. I know what’s good. I’ve tried pretty much everything,” says Elves.

Elves stresses the crucial role of knowledgeable staff, as “you can have the biggest beer list in the world, but if you don’t have staff who can tell people about it, it doesn’t matter.” He feels that with frequent beer tastings for all staff and a collaborative work ethic, Three Boars has the best beer-educated staff in the city.

I suggest you take him up on this by ordering one of Three Boars’ innovative meat dishes, then say: “bring me a good beer.” I think you’ll end up with a perfect pair joining you at table.

Most meat pairs well with beer on the malty side of the spectrum, rather than very hoppy beer. But hops are handy for balancing the fat of some dishes. Let your taste be your guide. The beers below are available at better beer shops such as Sherbrooke, Keg n Cork, Liquor Select or deVine’s.

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel, Germany

For hundreds of years, since 1040, Weihenstephaner has been brewing excellent beers to accompany the hearty food of Bavaria and beyond. This classic Dunkelweizen (dark wheat beer) is a great partner to pork, whether in sausages or ham, or just about anything with bacon in it.

Yukon Red Amber Ale, Whitehorse, Yukon

This mellow American amber ale from way up north pairs well with cuisine from way down south, like pulled pork. A charmer of a beer, its sweetness nodding at the sugar in the sauce, its malty base collaborating with the caramel char of the meat.

Russell Blood Alley Bitter, Surrey, BC

An extra special bitter with a pig on the label must be a natural partner with pork. Barbecue ribs are a classic pairing for pale ale or bitters. Why? The hoppy bitterness cuts through the fat and grease of ribs while the malt base smothers the spice in a blanket of deliciousness.

Muskoka Mad Tom IPA, Bracebridge, Ontario

A beer and a burger might just be the ultimate of perfect pairs. This American IPA may hail from back east, but it does the west coast hoppy style impeccably. The punchy hops cut the juicy fat of a burger down to size, making this IPA a welcome guest at any backyard barbecue.

8 Wired The Big Smoke Smoked Porter, New Zealand

Chuck Elves at Three Boars surprised me when he suggested porter pairs well with lamb. He’s right. This mighty smoked porter goes mighty well with grilled lamb, with its smoked malt playing off the meat’s charred flavours.

Ommegang Abbey Ale, Cooperstown, NY

A serious beer like a Belgian-style dubbel from the acclaimed American brewery has the vigour to stand shoulder to shoulder with grilled steak, its rich, fruity depth bringing out the best in the beef.

Peter Bailey is a meat-eating, beer-drinking, book-reading Edmonton-area librarian.