When Did ‘Pairing’ Beer With Food Begin?

Expensive scotch egg.

In a new piece for All About Beer magazine, Tom Acitelli, author of a well-regarded history of the US craft beer movement, makes a carefully worded and very specific claim on behalf of the late Michael Jackson:

On Nov. 16, 1983… readers of The Washington Post awoke to an essay, meandering over four pages, on which beers to pair with which parts of the Thanksgiving feast the following week… [This was] the first time such extensive beer-food advice had appeared in an American newspaper… It was the father of every beer-food-pairing piece to come in the next generation…

He’s not saying that Jackson was the first to consider pairing specific beers with particular types of food, or that this had never happened before 1983 — only that this was the first time many Americans would have come across the idea explored at such length.

And he is right to be cautious.

Even without conducting a comprehensive survey, our library quickly turned up an entire chapter on ‘Beer With Food’ in Andrew Campbell’s 1956 Book of Beer. It contains all the now familiar tropes, including the suggestion that beer should either complement or strongly contrast with the food it accompanies. He even provides a table suggesting brand name beers for each course of a hypothetical meal: ‘For delicate foods, chicken, veal, lamb — light beers and lagers. Red Barrel, Courage’s Alton.’

Earlier still, 1934’s A Book About Beer by ‘A. Drinker’ also addresses the issue at length, though the conclusions the author reaches might not please those who believe beer is always the best choice to accompany food: ‘Veal has that chicken like fragility that is broken up by the tang of malt and hops.’ In general, there is a an attempt to distinguish between the worlds of beer and of wine:

About what should and should not be eaten with beer I would hesitate to lay down the law so forcibly and finally as do the writers upon wine… Good bread, good cheese and good beer provide a complete meal which the most elaborate menu can scarcely better. Bread and cheese, indeed, form a perfect background for a beer of good quality. They set of its smoothness, its gulpability, its fragrance, its essential rotundity.

Finally, there is what you might call ‘folk pairing’ — the idea that oysters go with stout, for example, was sufficiently mainstream that readers of the magazine Judy (a second-rate Punch knock-off) would understand this cartoon from 15 October 1873:

oyster_supper_season_1873

But, zooming forward to the 1970s, it is notable how little mention is made of beer with food in seminal works like Richard Boston’s Beer and Skittles (1976), even though several recipes for beer in food are given. So perhaps Jackson does deserve the credit (or blame) for reviving something that came quite naturally to earlier beer connoisseurs who were less self-conscious about being seen as pretentious.

24 thoughts on “When Did ‘Pairing’ Beer With Food Begin?”

      1. Without wanting to read *too* much into a poorly drawn cartoon of an oyster dancing with a beer bottle, is it possible that either (a) there was a Dublin brewery of the same name or (b) that Dublin stout was used by the London brewery as a kind of style designation? Would seem a weird mistake for a contemporary artist to make otherwise. (Perhaps he was suffering from oyster-related food poisoning and/or a stout-related hangover at the time…)

        1. There definitely wasn’t a Reid’s brewery in Dublin, and I’ve never seen “Dublin Stout” used as a stylistic indicator. I’d say he just picked two words commonly found on stout bottle labels, albeit never the same ones.

  1. My favourite pairing with beer is another beer directly afterwards.

    Really don’t get the current trend but if it works for you then fair enough!

    1. For us, it’s an occasional bit of fun, but for breweries trying to open up new markets, it’s really important.

  2. That was one of the more immediately recognizable puff pieces about Jackson yet. I am thinking of naming a scale for the number of seconds it takes to spot a false Jacksonian claim.

  3. I believe in Jackson’s The World Guide To Beer (1977), he mentioned that Campbell advised brown ale goes well with apple pie. It is either in that book or his even-earlier pub book.

    It’s a hint of his interest to come in the area and clearly he knew of Campbell’s pioneering interest albeit there are predecessors – there always are and probably more can be unearthed from the 1800’s with a concerted look.

    In terms of 1983 however, there were definitely important earlier developments in the States. Jim Robertson’s 1982 edition of The Connsoisseur’s Guide To Beer, unlike his first (1978) edition, has almost a full page entitled “Beer At The Dinner Table”. He refers in that discussion to the July-August 1980 issue of “The Friends of Wine” in which Bob Abel wrote an article with the interesting, somewhat defensive title, “Beer Is Not A Proletarian Drink”. Abel outlined a Frenmch dinner with beer. It starts with mussels matched by PIlsner Urquell and finishes with fruit and cheese enhanced with a Black Velvet (using Champers and not cider of course). Roberston was intrigued by this but seemed to feel beer went best with Mexican and Asian foods.

    I believe John Porter’s All About Beer from 1975 talks briefly about beer and food as well, but Abel’s seems the first article in modern times at any rate in America to look at the subject gastronomically as it were.

    Jackson’s writings unquestionably were influential but he would have been aware of these various predecessors.

  4. Yikes. So even the claim of first “in America” holds no water. Maybe it’s “important” because it’s Jackson’s first Jacksonian writing on the topic? Maybe?

  5. Mr Acitelli does use an appropriate amount of qualifiers — he specifies ‘mainstream’ and does say ‘American newspaper‘.

    He’s a careful writer — thumbs up from us, on the whole.

    Out of interest, Alan, do you recognise Jackson as significant and/or pioneering in *any* sense? (Not being snarky! Interested in understanding where you’re at.)

  6. I think he was important. But he is also taken to be a number of things which, on the record, he was simply not. US beer writers and folk in the trade will claim he was the first on many topics which we clearly, as in this case, can see him not being – and he himself not claiming to be. They may need someone to play that elemental figure – whether playing as a Ben Franklin or Christ figure – for cultural reasons. Don’t know. I am not sure what he would have made of the 237 style universe even if he was the one who cursed us with the hegemony of that construct even if not the last few years of foolishness.

    But I at the end of the day would not care too much as to his opinion as I seem him as an equal of maybe five influential beer writers and certainly among a group of a few dozen I would call important. I have no doubt had he never written about beer that the micro and craft beer movement would have revealed itself in a similar manner. He is not the cause of any of that as is so casually claimed. I also am not a fan of his writing style though I know many are. I think he is less than precise and relies a bit too much on mannerism and cliche. Others, like Garrett Oliver, are much better at turning a large body of data into digestible content. He is of a point in time, too, as with respect are his biggest fans in a way. I understand he was a hell of a guy and highly influential to the wave of US beer writers who immediately followed him. I do not see that he continued to have such a singular influence there after. So, perhaps a prophet even if not messianic. Not a bad legacy at all. One we are all the better for. But many folk like you have moved into new and broad areas of research not really aligned with or based on his approach and the are all the better for that, too. Time simply moves on.

      1. I see it quite differently to Alan. If you ever do a separate blog entry on Michael Jackson’s influence, that would be a good place for you (B&B) to express, and to gather from readers, further thoughts on this.

        Gary

  7. Just back to pre-Jackson sources, there’s a couple of interest here:

    http://www.beerbooks.com/cgi/ps4.cgi?action=psdbi&thispage=beer-books.html&order_id=402366439&temp_param1=Beer-And-Food&temp_param2=1&temp_param3=Title

    The 1948 Beer In Your Stew book (uncredited) sounds promising, and the English book, Beer Cookery by Michael Harrison from the early 1950’s – based on a televised BBC show! – looks quite interesting too. Campbell’s book would have come after Harrison’s. I wonder if that early BBC broadcast survives, it sounds rather non-contemporary for England and must have made a splash so to speak. I’ve got at one one 1971 beer-and-food book, English again, which isn’t in the linked resource, but still it does contain quite a number of the earlier books albeit many post-Jackson too.

    Gary

    1. At the Brewery History Society/British Guild of Beer Writers seminar the other week, Martyn Cornell pointed out that there had been a lot of books about *cooking with* beer in the post-war period. (I think I’m recalling the thrust of his observation correctly.) Does the book you have from 1971 mention pairings, or just suggest using beer as ingredient?

      1. I’ll dig book out tonight and advise. Can’t recall writer’s name or author at the moment, but there is a black and white photo of a younger woman, circa-1970’s hair style and fashions, on the dust cover. It is mostly recipes which use beer as an ingredient but IIRC she also advises on pairings up to a point.

        Gary

    2. By the way not so sure now Harrison may not be American, so just a caveat there. Not sure where BBC fits in.

  8. It’s Carole Fahy’s Cooking With Beer, 1972. English book and if you search it numerous references pop up e.g. on Amazon and Abe Books. Not a historical or social survey-type book but just a good collection of recipes from an experienced cook. Some are traditional dishes and some possibly more her ideas, or non-beer dishes adapted to use beer. She describes different beer types in a general way and beer as a beverage with food but the focus is beer cookery.

    Beer cookery books in my experience cover both areas usually but to different degrees, they are however part of the same way of thinking IMO.

    Gary

  9. There is also Beer and Vittels from 1955, written by Elizabeth Craig — bog standard recipes, but some paras on how to store beer, hints on serving beer (‘beer should be handled as carefully as a vintage wine’) — the book seems to be influenced by the writer and her husband’s sojourn in Germany. So there is German Beer Soup, sea bass boiled in dark beer, Tavern Cottage Pie which has Scotch Ale is part of the recipe and raisin pudding, which suggests the addition of old ale as reuqired.

  10. Adrian’s note reminded me of this extended discussion in 2013 of Elizabeth Craig’s book in a website called britishfoodinamerica.com:

    http://www.britishfoodinamerica.com/A-Wintry-Number-of-Soups-and-Stews/the-critical/A-note-on-cooking-with-beer-including-reviews-of-Beer-and-Vittles-by-Elizabeth-Craig-and-Beer-and-Skittles-by-Richard-Boston/#.VHg8CN5cTHg

    As far as I can tell, the author of this interesting website is anonymous.

    There is a sally into some writing Richard Boston did in the area, as well in his well-known Beer And Skittles.

    The writing here is quite sophisticated and has a academic flair to it, it reminds me of the school of food writing associated to the Oxford Symposia of Food and that kind of scholarly approach, very good stuff. Beer makes only an occasionally appearance on the site but the writing is always interesting.

Comments are closed.