Perhaps his most tantalizing idea is the “flavor hook…the part of the beer’s flavor and aroma that matches, harmonizes or accentuates the flavors in your food. When the flavors meet on your tongue, they ‘recognize’ each other and this creates a harmony.” As an example, he points to the caramel flavors that develop in foods that are grilled or roasted: he argues that these foods—grilled meats, caramelized onions—find their counterpart flavors in beers that, themselves, have a caramel accent.
Returning to a more conventional approach to food and beer, former chef Jay Harlow has published The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook. This is, familiarly, a book organized around foods, not concepts. However, rather than devoting chapters to courses (appetizers, soups, entrees) or principal ingredients (fish, chicken, vegetables), Harlow organizes his beer-flavored recipes by global region—which may suggest some convergence with Oliver’s “flavor hook.” After all, what is a chapter entitled “Malt and Hops, Meet Ginger and Soy” about but the dominant flavor hooks of Asian cuisine and the beer flavors that enhance that hook?
I looked for points of comparison: did the brewmaster and the chef ever discuss the same food, and, if they did, did they suggest the same beer style? Not really. Harlow is less rigorous than Oliver: many delicious-sounding recipes are accompanied by a “Which Beer?” note that simply says “any lager.” This is really a compendium of dishes that are friendly to beer, rather than the unified theory on food and beer.
Oliver’s book, on the other hand, dissects the flavor profile of individual beer brands and then explains which characteristics of a particular food will be enhanced, but you have to locate your own recipes.
Oliver’s book belongs by the comfy chair, to inspire you about beer, breweries and flavor: Harlow’s should join the cookbooks on the shelf, handy when a particular recipe is called for.