What Would You Like to Drink?
Hear those beer geeks over there? What a lot they know, and how they love to share it among themselves! This is why it took not a beer geek but a sommelier, a professional interpreter of other people’s tastes, to come up with a taxonomy of beer for people who don’t actually know everything already: one that sorts the endless variety not by fermentation method, yeast type, or brewery of origin; not by gravity, ABV, bitterness and color; not even by temperature, texture, richness; but by flavor.
Two years ago, the visionary cicerone Greg Engert gently lowered a framework of seven flavor groups onto the teeming circus mob of today’s beer offering, let it settle, and went about his business, leaving some 13,000 different American beer labels, on bottles, taps, and shelves supplied by 3,300 licensed independent beer distributors, sorted.
If you’ve ever had to school servers in selling craft beer, you’ll be extra-appreciative of Engert’s contribution. It is equally easy to teach, remember, and convey. Unlike ale and lager, stout and port, Belgian and Anglo-American, for example, the differences among Engert’s seven flavor groups and the two to three subgroups in each are sensory, not intellectual. They line out the familiar and easily reinforced pathways your beer brain needs to keep its bearings. And, they’re relative. The styles of beer–each group contains several that are not commonly associated with one another–gain flavor intensity as you follow the sequence of groups from crisp to hop, malt, roast, smoke, fruit and spice, and tart and funky.
As soon as those primary flavor profiles sink in, staff who may have been pushing a rote handful of esoteric brews using hophead cliches will be released into simple, authentic dialog that guides customers to satisfying and memorable choice. From there, every new beer tasted can more easily find its niche with the taster. That’s the beauty of Engert’s system: it can contain the ocean of detail that beer completists swim in, yet it’s absorbed organically, one tasting experience at a time.
The bored take interest. The baffled begin to see the light. The bartender spots an opening….
Something to Eat with That?
Sausage. Go ahead, say it a couple of times out loud. Is it out of your system?
What is sausage, anyway?
A more definitive question might be, What isn’t it? Pork is but one of myriad main ingredients. You can make sausage from virtually any savory combination of protein, grain, and vegetable. You can grind, mince, flake, dice, chop, or emulsify that; season or spike it; shape it into loaves, links, rings, rolls, patties, balls, or bricks; wrap it, dry it, cure it, can it, pot it, smoke it, stuff it, and it will remain recognizably sausage regardless.
Although cured whole-muscle meats (made by wedging an animal leg under your saddle and galloping through Anatolia for a month) might pre-date sausage, it is not pastrami that took off across cultures and eras, figuring in ritual, tradition, the building of society, and, in the southeastern United States, even citizenship.
What other prepared food has proliferated like sausage? Why, liquid bread! Mankind’s original leap from water to tea might have been an accident, but the one from tea to the all-time historical number-three drink, beer, earned us the right to call ourselves civilized. As products of nature, craft, and provenance, then, beer and sausage are equals.
How About a Sandwich?
Here in the New World, young people are figuring that out that beer and sausage are better together. Some of the hippest concepts in the industry right now are built around this handheld democratic duo. A west-to-east “flight” of three:
“#Freebacon Happy Hour” is not even the main attraction at San Diego’s Sausage and Meat, a “meatery” sit-down with butcher-shop takeaway and a 12-tap “Swine Bar.”
The Williamsburg iteration of Rosamunde Sausage Grill offers free delivery throughout Brooklyn of your choice of brews in a 64-ounce growler that you get to keep, plus up to 10 sausages that you get to eat.
For your reference in menu building, here are suggestions for types of sausages that go with each style of beer mentioned by Greg Engert in his seven-flavor beer breakdown. They’re gathered from pairings found in menus all over North America and Europe. This is is not a true concordance in that you can’t look up the pairings by either element, but only because sausages aren’t yet made and sold like beers.