Houstonians have long been comfortable bringing their own bottle of wine out to eat, but pairing a craft beer with your dinner can sometimes prove intimidating. American craft beer is now available in more than 100 different styles from literally thousands of brewers. For the average consumer, many beer labels offer little help in distinguishing one brew from another, making the process of pairing a beer with a specific meal needlessly difficult.
As craft beer continues to grow in popularity, more Houston restaurants are offering strong beer selections -- and many also offer BYOB policies that allow you to bring your own beer to dinner, usually for a small corkage fee. Shopping for your own beer beforehand adds a fun element to the dining experience, but the beer aisle can occasionally be overwhelming. In an attempt to make it easier on you, here you will find a list of four beers that pair well with a wide variety of meals -- as well as a list of four BYOB places in which to enjoy them.
Bear Republic Racer 5
A mild, approachable IPA, there is a reason that Racer 5 is found in many finer dining rooms. Chefs and beverage managers know how well it pairs with a wide variety of food. Racer 5's simple, clean flavor offers a good backdrop to the heat in a bowl of Thai noodles, but it still has enough presence and hop finish to cut through a fatty foie gras or even hearty meals like winter stews. The most refined beer on this list (despite having a very unrefined label), Racer 5 can hold up against the most elegant meals.
Pairing suggestions: Beef bourguignon, charcuterie, ahi tuna steak
Ska True Blonde Dubbel
Blondes get a bad rap in the beer community. Their bold, sometimes overly sweet malt profile is off-putting to those who prefer more complex, bitter beers. This same big malt backbone is what makes this Belgian blonde so easy to pair with everything from spicy tikka masala to a loaded cheeseburger. Its very slight Belgian spice notes of clove and coriander add interest but don't interfere with its clean, refreshing taste. As a buying tip, be sure not to mistake this for Ska's True Blonde, their year-round American blonde ale. This Dubbel is only available in 22-ounce, wax-sealed bomber format and can be found year-round at most larger beer sellers.
Pairing suggestions: Red curries, enchiladas, mussels
Yes, there's another Belgian Blonde Ale on the list -- but this one is far more complex and adds more Belgian spice and fruit esters to its arsenal than the aforementioned Ska beer. In fact, the only attribute that Ska True Blonde Dubbel shares with Avery Salvation is its style. This ale is a bit of a chameleon, changing flavors and notes based on how you pair it. And for that reason, Salvation may be the most diverse beer on the list. You'll be hard-pressed to find a meal Salvation can't match. Pairing it to spicy Asian dishes will bring out strong malt notes, while simple Italian meals emphasize its clean finish and warm flavors.
Pairing Suggestions: Pad Thai, pizza, roasted cauliflower
One of the very best Bière de Garde-style beers available in Texas, this crisp, carbonated ale serves as a great palate cleanser while its subtle fruit, oak and pepper notes offer myriad pairing options. Made with eight different types of malt, D'Hougoumont has had its complexity toned down by time aged on French oak as well as maple staves. Enjoyed best with bold Asian flavors like coconut-based curries, its clean, light finish will also pair well with lighter dishes such as grilled salmon or white fish, something very few beers can claim. This beer has limited availability. So try to find it sooner rather than later.
Pairing Suggestions: Crab cakes, green curries, roasted chicken
Cooking a meal around your beer is always fun but if you have a night out on the town in mind, here is a short list of great restaurants with generous BYOB policies.
NJoy Thai: Offering comfort food, Thai style, this tiny Montrose spot also has no corkage fee for customers bringing in their own bottles. The inspiration for this article, Avery Salvation, works well with a wide variety of the menu.
Lucio's: Recently called a hidden gem, Lucio's classic menu calls for the classic, all-around beer. Racer 5 will pair well with most of Lucio's fall menu, such as the tuna tartare or vegetable terrine.
Himalaya: This Pakistani favorite offers bold spicy plates that clamor for a good beer to cool the palate. Ommegang would be my choice here. As an alternative, try a boozy barleywine style to cut through the spice, but remember to share with the rest of the table, as these beers pack a high ABV wallop.
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Lola: Big, bold sandwiches like The Day After Thanksgiving will stand up to any beer on this list, but the golden sweet Ska Blonde would be my choice, or try an Imperial Pilsner for a clean, light pairing. Lola also won't charge a corking fee for bringing in your beer.