Beer and Food Culture: A Chef’s Discovery
By Chef Stephanie Michalak, Turner Farm Culinary Manager
Freshly back from a year abroad working in wine export and marketing in Germany, I found myself sitting on a bench outside of Trӧegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, PA. I was drinking JavaHead (an oatmeal stout) when I experienced a revelation: I loved beer. The flavor complexities, the weird and twisted histories of regional variations, the brewing science, and even how different styles pair with foods. I’m certain most readers will think that’s extremely ironic since I was living in Germany the year prior, and yes, while I was there I did have to decide whether Kӧlsch or Alt was better for the sake of a few friendships, especially when I lived in Cologne. However, I was so entrenched in the vast world of wine that I missed the immense wonder and variety in beer.
That following week, I spent some time studying beer and took a very quick, very simple first-level exam for beer serving. My level of jadedness towards wine matched my exuberance for studying beer. I quickly set my eyes on the Cicerone program (the expert-level certification for beer professionals) and decided I had to take my beer education to the next level and become a certified cicerone. I’m sure anyone who has studied for a long, tedious exam knows that you typically need a lot of time and diligence to really solidify copious amounts of information. I’ve also never been a fan of cramming because that type of studying typically abandons your memory as fast as it was stuffed there. So, I’ve been spending the last five years exploring beer from various angles and spending most of my master’s education focused on beer culture and history.
I have continuously sought to understand beer as both a symbol and physical product. This has been split between academic and social experiences; both have been educational (and fun) in various ways. It’s brought me to places like Ireland to study the surge of Irish craft beer culture and even just enticed me to brew and bottle my own beers to figure out the science behind brewing. Trust me—there’s no better way to experience what can go wrong in the brewing process than to have an American pale ale explode all over your apartment after a 16-hour day.
Ultimately, beer is more than just a liquid. Yes, beer undulates throughout time and historically changes between cultures and geographical locations. However, there are ways to understand snapshots of what beer was, is, and even will be with the development and transformation of beer styles. That’s one of the reasons why I love pairing beer with food because both are ever-changing—they are never the same outside of a moment in time as perceptions, environments, and even just the products themselves change. It’s a beautiful thing.
Want to learn to love beer (and the food that goes well with it) as much as Chef Stephanie? Join her for her Beer Styles + Food Pairings class on Saturday, June 1.