We all know that certain beers should be paired with certain foods. However, there’s another way food can be served with beer; as a garnish. There are a number of brews out there intended to be served with a slice of orange or lime, but what’s the purpose? And where did it all get started?
There is some debate over whether a slice of lemon in wheat beers was started in the 1960s in Germany, or whether it was an American invention. However, before the US really had any wheat beers of its own, it served these sorts of garnishes in German-themed bars along with Hefeweizens, suggesting it was a tradition started across the Atlantic. The whole idea was probably adopted as an imitation of cocktails, which were the drink of choice at bars at the time.
Since then, lemon, lime and orange slices have caught on as a popular addition to American wheat beers and cervezas. Most fans agree that the tartness of the fruit complements the yeasts used in the beers, and sometimes enhance the beer’s natural citrus flavor. Citrus isn’t the only garnish that has been used with beers, though.
Most people don’t really question why there are mixed nuts or pretzels at the bar, but they have significance. The salt on the nuts and pretzels can complement the flavor of a beer. Some bartenders go as far as hanging pretzels from the glass with certain beers. If you have a nut allergy—or don’t want to risk eating anything out of a bowl that countless others have stuck their hands into—you can add the salt directly to your beer or around the rim. This is an old tradition that has its roots in old wives’ tales of helping with cramps, and is not as common a way to garnish beer anymore. Still, there are flavored salts made especially for adding to your brew, and adding salt to beer can deflate the carbonation, which may be a plus to some drinkers looking to avoid a gassy stomach.
Salt and lime as a mix of garnishes is especially prevalent in states bordering Mexico. A michelada is a beer cocktail that uses salt, pepper, lime, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. There are a number of takes on this simple recipe, using different beers, and non-traditional hot sauces like Sriracha. Chili peppers are another ingredient that is sometimes used for micheladas.
Chocolate is another beer garnish option, pairing especially well with stouts, barley wines, porters and some lambics. You can do this a number of ways, including powdering a glass with a coco mix, or making dark or milk chocolate ornaments.
There are a number of other less common garnishes, including green olives, which are usually paired with American or English pale ales, and cinnamon sugar rims, which go well with pumpkin ales. Fruit beers can also be paired with the fruit with which they are flavored, including berries, cherries and watermelon.
Some purists believe that adding any embellishment to a beer is just a way of covering up poor quality, though. They argue that the beer itself should be taste enough, and that adding anything to it only covers up the flavor, either to the detriment of a good brew, or the benefit of a beer with off or little flavors. Another complaint about some garnishes is that they deflate the head, and as with the case with salty choices, can affect the carbonation of the beer, which some believe should not be tampered with.
We say that garnishes are a matter of taste, and a fun way to experiment with a brew you already know and love. So, here’s a few suggested pairings that might make garnish doubters think twice.
Hoegaarden Original White Ale; garnish with slice of lemon hanging off the rim to accentuate the sweet, citrus flavor and offset the spicy clove.
Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout; rim glass with cocoa powder, or just pair with a small bar of dark chocolate.
Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Ale; drop a couple of green olives into this IPA, and watch the bubbles gather around them, allowing them to float back to the top.
5 Rabbit 5 Lizard; lemon goes well with this latin-style witbier, and salt or hot sauce can also be a good choice of garnish.
Uinta Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale; powder the rim of the glass with a cinnamon and sugar mix to add a little kick to this already delicious pumpkin ale.
Shock Top Raspberry Wheat; plopping a couple of raspberries into this popular Belgian-style wheat ale slightly strengthens the berry’s flavor… and you get a little treat in the bottom of your glass.