Pair foods with everything from ales to stouts this season

Of course, you'd offer a beer to your buddies while watching a football game. You'd probably have beer on hand during a backyard barbecue or a tailgate party. But beer is also appropriate for more formal occasions.

"When I grew up, it was always white tablecloths and pilsner glasses. It wasn't wine, it was beer," said George Reisch, a brewmaster with Anheuser-Busch. The company recently hosted a beer pairing dinner in Atlanta.

This holiday season, consider replacing the wine at a dinner party with a selection of beer. Handcrafted and specialty beers pair as easily with food as a fine vintage does.

If you're not ready to commit to a full meal, try hosting serving appetizers and beer. Start with a cheese platter.

"Cheese and beer is a wonderful thing," Reisch said. "The carbonation in the beer will open up the cheese and increase the cheese flavor."

At the Anheuser-Busch beer dinner, a wheat beer was served with a salad of tomato and mozzarella drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.

"When you have a wheat beer, you're in for a culinary experience," Reisch said.

Hefeweizens, which are summer-brewed wheat beers, also go well with cheese, as do double bocks, which are very malty, full-bodied German beers, according to "What to Drink with What You Eat" by Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page (Bulfinch Press, $35). The book offers suggestions for food and beverage pairings of all kinds from experts from restaurants across the country.

"Pilsner is popular with our experts for pairing with everything from peanuts, hot dogs and pizza to soft-shell crab sandwiches," the authors write.

Ales go well with fried and spicy foods, while a brown ale is well matched with steak, the book said. Beer can even go with dessert. Chocolate or imperial stouts go well with chocolate desserts, said "What to Drink with What You Eat."

During the holidays, Anheuser-Busch is offering two beers that could substitute for dessert. Michelob Celebrate Vanilla Oak features vanilla and caramel flavors, while Michelob Celebrate Chocolate both smells and tastes like chocolate.

This season, in addition to drinking beer, you may want to try cooking with it. Daniel Joly, a Belgian master chef, visited Atlanta recently and used beer as an ingredient in the dishes he cooked while he presented a workshop on La Cuisine a la Biere (beer cuisine). Joly is the owner of Mirabelle at Beaver Creek in Colorado. While in town, Joly also prepared a menu for a Stella Artois dinner held at Shaun's, a new restaurant in Inman Park.

The menu included a Colorado rack of lamb with celery root and black truffle mousseline, made with Leffe Blonde, a Belgian abbey ale first brewed by monks, and lobster tail medallions with butternut squash and baby carrot flan topped with chestnut foam. The lobster dish included Hoegaarden, a Belgian white beer made with unmalted wheat. Both dishes were paired with the beer used to make them.

At your own event, don't worry about matching beers and food perfectly. Offer a selection of dishes and kinds of beer and experiment to see which tastes you like best together.

beer and food pairing tips

•Amber beer: Pairs nicely with grilled meats, barbecued foods and cheeses such as cheddar, gouda and smoked mozzarella.

•American lager: Goes well with roast beef and gravy and baked ham.

•Bavarian-style wheat beer: Pairs well with poultry dishes, Asian cuisine and greens, including collards.

•Light lager: Pairs best with seafood or vegetarian appetizers, fresh fruit and simple salads.

•Porter: Pairs well with a variety of cheeses, shellfish dishes and chocolate desserts.

•Pumpkin ale: Pairs well with turkey, teriyaki chicken, mild Italian sausage and pumpkin bisque.

•Stout: Goes well with chocolate, chocolate cake, coffee and caramel ice cream.

Visit www.herestobeer.com for more suggestions on food and beer pairings.

Source: Anheuser-Busch