Pretzels and peanuts are fine for a kegger, but craft brews deserve a more refined spread. We tapped local experts for food and beer matchups made in epicurean heaven. (All beer prices below are from Binny’s; see binnys.com for locations.)
Oysters pair brilliantly with beer—traditionally Guinness. Michael McAvena, beer director at The Publican, says blond-malt beers with some bitterness will help balance particularly salty bivalves but won’t drown out lingering ocean flavors. Although the oysters below come from the East Coast, McAvena says a few West Coasters—such as kusshis, Kumamotos, or Hog Island Sweetwaters—would add pizzazz but may require a special order.
McAvena’s picks (oysters available at The Fish Guy Market, 4423 N. Elston Ave.; 773-283-7400):
» Malpeques ($1.50 each) with Saison Dupont ($15.99 four-pack)
» Pocomos ($1 special for Chicago readers) with Victory’s Prima Pils ($9.99 six-pack)
Ria Neri, the cicerone at the encased-meats parlor Bangers & Lace (1670 W. Division St.; 773-252-6499) in Wicker Park, says bright-tasting beers with acidic notes complement delicate flavors like those in a lamb merguez, while roastier beers go with kielbasa. Avoid pairing spicy sausages with hoppy beers, which intensify heat.
Neri’s picks (sausages available at Paulina Meat Market, 3501 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-248-6272):
» Andouille ($7/lb.) with Left Hand’s Good Juju ginger beer ($12.99/750 mL)
» Duck sausage ($8.50/lb.) with Trappistes Rochefort 8 ($5.99/11.2 oz.)
Eric Larson, the co-owner of Marion Street Cheese Market, suggests highly carbonated beers for cleansing fat from the palate. While hoppy IPAs can overwhelm subtle cheeses, a Gouda, such as Goodhue from PastureLands in Minnesota ($21.99/lb.), should hold its own.
Larson’s picks (cheeses available at Marion Street Cheese Market, 100 S. Marion St., Oak Park; 708-725-7200):
» Clothbound Cheddars from Cabot ($22.99/lb.) or Bleu Mont ($29.99/lb.) with Bell’s Oberon ($9.99 six-pack)
» Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative’s Dante ($24.99/lb.) with North Coast’s Brother Thelonious ($7.99/750 mL)