October 7, 2022

Beer and food pairings in the sukka


When you sit in your sukka this year, welcome a few Israeli craft beers as your "guests."

Much has been written about pairing food with different wines.  But actually, pairing food with beer offers a much wider range of aromas and flavors to enhance almost any dish. 

Wine is pretty one-dimensional.  Beer can bring to our palates bitter and sweet, sour and even salty.  Different malts add notes of bread, chocolate, coffee, dried fruits, caramel and much more.  The hops pitch in with earthy and spicy flavors, citrus, tropical fruits, floral, herbal or piney.  Just by varying the yeast we can perceive different fruits, juice, candy, and that ever elusive "funk."

When you add to this all of the craft beers which are made with added fruits, herbs and spices – the taste experiences become unlimited.

What are some Sukkot dishes that we can pair with Israeli beers?  Well, that's a problem since Sukkot, of all the Jewish holidays, doesn't seem to be associated with any specific foods.  Passover, Shavuot, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashana, Purim – all have special dishes.  You have to dig a little deeper – and use more imagination – to find the foods that are part of the Sukkot holiday.

One interesting association is with stuffed vegetables, symbolizing the autumn harvest bounty, with rice or grain overflowing out of the vegetable in a figurative horn of plenty.  Some commentators compare the stuffed vegetable to the Torah scroll we dance with on Simchat Torah: The real essence is wrapped inside. 

In our house, we serve stuffed cabbage in a tomato gravy (which my Baltimore-born wife calls "prakas"), but it can also be zucchini, eggplant, vine leaves, mushrooms, peppers, etc.  It's made with lemons, raisins and brown sugar, producing a sweet and sour sauce, with strong flavors of tomato and cabbage.  We stuff it with rice and soya, but it can also include meat.

To complement the stuffed veggie, try an Amber Ale, where the malt sweetness balances the vegetable and sauce, cutting some of the tomato acidity.  Amber Ales from the Shikma Brewery, and the Ultimus Super Hero from Six-Pack Beers, are good examples of this style.        

A contrasting beer would be an India Pale Ale (IPA) from the HaGibor Brewery or Shevet Brewery's Hop Guru.  Here, the hop bitterness balances the sweetness in the gravy, and subdues the sourness.

Another fitting dish for the sukka is a Seven Species Salad, which includes at least some (if not all) of the seven species which were the basis of agriculture in the Land of Israel: Wheat, barley, grapes (wine), figs, pomegranates, olives (oil) and dates (silan syrup).

People normally don't think of fresh salads going with beer, but choosing the right beer style can add a surprising taste dimension.  For example, an aromatic and light Wheat Beer will not overpower the delicate flavors of the salad.  The Bavarian-style Wheat Beers from the Jem's Beer Factory, or from the Galil Brewery, will to the job nicely.        

Another beer which will complement your salad is a Blond Ale – like those from the Alexander Brewery and the Malka Brewery.  The beer's malt sweetness and citrusy notes will add a new level of flavors to any light salad.      

Since eating in the sukka requires a lot of carrying between the kitchen and the table, one-dish meals are popular.  For example, we enjoy a hearty shepherd's pie, which can be either with meat or vegetarian.  Once you carry this into the sukka, the whole meal is practically there.

The rich, hearty flavors of a shepherd's pie cry out for a beer that can match the intensity.  A dark Porter or a Stout will do perfectly, while it contributes roasty, nutty and malty tastes to the pie.  Negev Beers' Porter Alon will also add oak notes.  Another perfect choice is Oatmeal Stout from the Shapiro Brewery.

For a different experience, have an Israeli Smoked Beer with your shepherd's pie (or any casserole) and add a woodsy, smoky character to the food.  Two excellent choices are Smoked Ale from the Mosco Brewery and Birat Ha'asor ("Beer of the Decade") Smoky Amber Ale from Srigim Brewery.

Meals in the sukka may also include dishes that are traditional for Rosh Hashana (New Year).  For example, we always have some pieces of honey cake left over to enjoy during Sukkot.  When you're having honey cake, try something different instead of the usual cup of coffee or tea.

Take a walk on the wild side and pair it with Israeli craft beer!  A good choice would be a Belgian Trippel, whose fruity esters and spicy flavor blend deliciously with any honey cake.  Emek Ha'ela and Oak & Ash just happen to brew fine examples of this style.  (The Oak & Ash Trippel is called "Ash 9.5".)

Another possibility is a Pale Ale; its moderate bitterness and hop flavors will balance the sweetness of the honey, and will emphasize the spiciness.  Typhoon APA (American Pale Ale) from HaDubim, or HeChatool HaShamen ("Fat Cat") from BeerBazaar are excellent Pale Ale choices for this dessert.

If you enjoy beer and food pairings over this Sukkot, don't be afraid to continue on your own for the rest of the year.  Once you get the hang of some basic flavor principles – intensity, complemental and contrast – it's not so difficult. 

Since the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians began to brew it over 5,000 years ago, beer was always meant to go with food.  See what interesting combinations you can come up with, and Chag Sameach!

                        [This article first appeared in 

                       The Jerusalem Post Magazine

                          on Friday, October 7, 2022.]     

1 comment:

Thanks for your comment. L'chayim!