CARNIVORE 2 Don’t Fear the Beer Matt Crawford Take Advantage of Today’s Explosion of Craft Beer and Their Complex Flavors Photos by Rob Curtis The difficult parts of the hunt are complete. The scout, the stalk, the shot. Then field dressing the animal, getting it out of the woods and properly butchered. By the time you’re ready to complete the field-to-table process and sit down to eat, you’d think what comes next would be a breeze. With beer pouring out of more than 6,000 breweries in the United States, there’s an immeasurable number of options for beer and wild game pairings. What do you do with that maple bacon coffee porter? That key lime pale ale? Or that boysenberry saison? Now, more than any point in human history, figuring out what beer to serve with what food can be a labyrinthine and complex process. But it doesn’t have to be. Pairing your favorite beer with the whitetail you shot in Wisconsin or the moose you took in Maine should be a fun and enjoyable exploration. Done correctly, it’s part of a delightful epicurean process that makes both the beer and the food taste better. Before we delve too far into this, let’s add a little historical context. Let’s go back to 1982. That year, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife statistics, just shy of 17-million hunting licenses — a record — were sold in this country. Back then, wild game dinners were often washed down with classic American pilsners and lagers. From deer camps in Pennsylvania, ice fishing shanties in New Hampshire, rustic cabins in the flooded duck marshes of Mississippi to high-altitude elk camps in the Rockies, it was pretty much just Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Miller Lite being served with dinners. Hunting’s high-water mark, 1982, also generally coincided with the start of the U.S. craft beer movement. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale came on the market in 1980. Samuel Adams Boston Lager hit in 1984. By the end of the 1980s, the foundation of America’s microbrewery industry was taking recognizable shape. The craft beer movement gave rise to cicerones — beer stewards trained to select and serve the best beers with carefully considered foods. Cicerones are to beer what sommeliers are to wine. Luckily, a good number of cicerones are either hunters themselves, or they really like to eat all kinds of wild game taken by hunters. If you want to know what ale to serve with antelope, what gose to serve with goose, or what rye beer to serve with rabbit, a bit of guidance from a cicerone, a chef, or a brewer can help. Steve Roberts, the executive chef at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in northern Vermont, sears a duck breast with a bit of Harpoon Camp Wannamango. The pale ale pairs well with the duck because of its light body, slight hop bitterness, and malty sweetness. Starting Off It may seem elementary, but one of the best pieces of advice for planning the perfect beer and wild game dinner is this: Start with what you know and like. “You don’t want to go into a dinner with a beer you’re not familiar with,” said Matt McCall, the head brewer at Coney Island Brewery in Brooklyn, New York. “One of the coolest things about beer is that we can create virtually any flavor we want. Unlike wine, which is made just from grapes, beer can be made with just about anything. We have beer with herbs, spices, fruits, maple syrup, and vegetables. With so many distinct and different tastes, you have to know what that beer tastes like before you start to pair it with any food.” Once you decide on a known beer (or more likely, known beers, since you’ll want to serve different beers with different courses), it’s time to start thinking about how to prepare the meal. The beer’s flavors both bold and subtle, should act like a road map for the rest of dinner. “I try to start with the beers and let them talk to me,” says Steve Roberts, the executive chef at Bolton Valley, a ski resort in Vermont. “The beer sets the tone.” Pairing a beer calls for a heady plate. Chef Roberts plates a meal of cranberry ale gastrique pan-seared duck breast, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, and duck fat and thyme potatoes. Dave Adams is the vice president of hospitality at Green Flash Brewing in San Diego and a certified cicerone. Green Flash regularly plays host to a number of food and beer pairings — six- or seven-course dinners complete with complimentary beers. Adams says he always begins the menu planning knowing that the flavors in the beers will dictate the food options. “Unless you’re specifically brewing a beer for a particular dinner, start with the beer,” Adams said. “It’s very easy to adjust a cooking technique or a recipe to alter the taste of food. This day and age, there are plenty of beers at your disposal that can take foods in all sorts of directions. Find the beers you want to work with and go from there.” Taste of the Wild Wild game — whether it’s venison or turkey, duck, or wild boar — is less fatty than the farm-raised version of the meat. Leaner protein affects the taste, too, and that meat taste, which can be stronger than domestic meats, needs to be carefully paired with beer. “You’ll hear people say wild game has a more distinct taste than beef or chicken coming from the farm,” says Dan Sartwell, a certified cicerone and brewmaster at 14th Star Brewing in St. Albans, Vermont. “You’ll want to keep that in mind when you are pairing it with a beer.” To read the rest of this article, click here to purchase a copy of CARNIVORE 2 Explore RECOILweb:The Do's and Don'ts of Handgun Shooting for the Cross DominantFirst Look: the NEA Compact Carbine StockLaserLyte's LT-223 rifle trainerThe America Grip Tool Grip NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. 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