Emily Baime Michaels and Darin Michaels met in 2009 and hit it off from the start.
“She talked about cooking. I talked about beer,” said Darin.
When they became a couple, Emily started thinking about an idea she had to share her passion for good cooking. She was a fan of Georgeanne Brennan, the internationally known author and cooking instructor based in Winters, and was looking to do something with food and wine pairings. She had a background in catering and wanted to take her cooking to new heights.
Darin was a beer distributor who had done many beer-pairing events at breweries. So he chimed in: Why not do it with beer?
Emily wasn’t sold right away. Like a lot of people, she may have been thinking of basic beer, not the wide, eclectic world of real beer.
In his excellent book “The Brewmaster’s Table,” Garret Oliver writes, “Real beer can do amazing things with food, and it goes where wine cannot go. … Wine is wonderful. But let’s be honest – it can’t do everything. Real beer can do everything.”
That’s part of the thinking behind Community Tap and Table, which Emily and Darin started to host cooking and beer-pairing classes. It has become a side business, a lifestyle, an intellectual pursuit and a way to make new friends and spread the word. Their first event was in 2010. They got married in 2013.
As they say on their website, “Our mission is to elevate beer, wine and food pairing from pub grub and a pint to seasonal, fresh foods paired with American craft beer and microbrews.”
These hands-on classes, which include cooking and then sitting down to eat and drink, cost $65. The annual Christmas event, which includes 12 beer and food pairings (I hope you’ve heard of Uber or Lyft), costs $85. The food is very much farm to fork. Emily buys much of the meat directly from farmers. She makes her own bacon, and many of the cheeses she serves she makes herself.
Once you delve into craft beer, the next logical step is to see how it works with food. It can be a profound experience. But what are you looking to do? With pairings, you should think about how the food is going to affect the taste of the beer, not the other way around. In other words, the flavor and residual textures of food can mix with beer on your palate and take the beer to a new and exciting dimension. Or it can make you pucker and frown. It’s part science, part intuition, and a good bit of it depends on the messages your taste buds send to your brain. We don’t all have the same palates, so we need to be mindful that not all pairings work for all people.
I met Emily and Darin recently to chat about pairings, and it was fun to see them interact when asked to give a specific pairing. They are quite the team. She is the executive director of the Midtown Business Association; he is director of sales for Common Cider.
In order to arrive at their pairings, Emily will tell Darin what she has in mind for each course. But she doesn’t stop there. Darin needs to know the specific seasonings, the combinations of ingredients, the overall flavor profile and all kinds of details to help him determine what beer would work. And as many serious craft beer folks already know, he has so much to work with when it comes to beer – bitter, tart, fruity, hoppy, sweet, salty, smoky, mild, malty, smoky, rich, astringent, effervescent.
There are no absolutes, but there are some things to understand and try. For instance, if Emily is making seared scallops with ample amounts of butter, Darin is thinking of a beer that will clear that richness off the palate. Maybe something crisp and effervescent like a Downtown Brown, a full-bodied, lightly hopped nut brown ale by Lost Coast Brewery.
For a rich dish such as macaroni and cheese (Emily does a version with sharp, aged cheddar and harissa, a hot paste made from roasted red peppers), Darin might pair it with a hoppy India pale ale, thinking that the spicier the dish, the higher the hops in the beer. And since Darin is now in the cider business, why not a lemon saison cider (I’ve had Common’s version of this and loved it) with a Moroccan tagine of cubed lamb cooked with cumin, white pepper, dried apricot and preserved lemon.
If you’re looking to do more with pairings, the couple has a book, “A Year in Beer and Food” (AltaMira Press, 180 pages; $15.39 for Kindle version on Amazon; $23.77 for hardcover). If you want a more direct experience, sign up for one of the couple’s many classes. On the website, Emily and Darin provide recipes and specific beer pairings. I’m already looking forward to whipping up some bacon-fried Brussels sprouts to go with a Pliny the Elder.
And for more on the wonders of beer and food, including a breakdown of the various beer styles and what kind of food goes with each, you should be sure to read “The Brewmaster’s Table.”