Here’s a combination that will blow your mind: Beer. And bacon.

And not just any bacon. At the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa’s inaugural beer and food pairing class, the “bacon” was thick chunks of pork belly prepared in a rye bread pocket by a James Beard Best Chef South Region semifinalist.

Epicurean hotel's interpretation of bacon

Now that’s what I call bacon. A pork belly cooked en croute by Executive Chef Chad Johnson at Tampa’s new Epicurean Hotel.

But don’t worry. Oscar Mayer fried on your stove works just as well.

Move over wine, because pairing beer with food has fewer rules, more combination possibilities, and frankly, it’s a heck of a lot more fun.

“Too often people look at beer as just a beverage. We elevate wine to this prestigious status. Beer deserves its equal place next to wine, especially when it comes to food pairing,” said Chris Fairchild, Craft Specialty & Import Account Manager for the distributor JJ Taylor.

Epicurean hotel beer tasting

We take time to smell, swirl and sip our wines, but too often we just pick up our pints and drink. Take time to note the appearance, aroma and characteristics of your next beer. It’s often just as complex as wine.

Chris, along with Thomas Barris from the Florida Beer Company, came to Tampa’s new Epicurean Hotel to teach the relatively new art of matching beer and food. Seven rounds of small plates prepared by the Epicurean’s executive chef, Chad Johnson, were paired with Florida Beer Company brews. Each combination included a quick lesson on why the food and beer complimented each other.

The beer and bacon dream team, for example, worked because the citrusy lager’s acidity and carbonation cut the bacon’s greasiness.

Epicurean beer tasting

Pro tip: To get the most from your beer, always – always – drink it from a glass, not the can or bottle. Much of what we taste is actually what we smell.

The Epicurean Hotel’s dinner and lesson was a prelude to the annual Tampa Bay Beer Week, a nearly month-long celebration of ales from around the bay area.

Florida may get picked on in the media, but we can do at least one thing right.

“People hate Florida,” said Thomas Harris, from the Florida Beer Company. “That’s why we have to make our beers better than everyone else’s.”

Epicurean hotel's fish and IPA pairing

Move over white wine, fish has a new friend. And its name is IPA. A tuna curry served with Florida Beer Company’s Devil’s Triangle IPA.

The tasting kicked off with Florida Beer Company’s 321 White IPA, a new release brewed for Tampa’s beer week. The IPA, a traditionally strong and sour beer, was served with a sea bass marinated in olive oil and lemon juice.

Fish is usually matched with a prissy white wine, not a powerful bitter ale. But the IPA had orange overtones that brought out the lemon in the sauce and, if you were paying attention, changed the flavor of the fish.

The dining room gets louder as we dive into another pairing, a double IPA (alcohol content 10%!), served with a mix of duck and duck confit.

The beer’s called Swamp Ape and it’s a strong and smoky punch in the face. The duck is equally delicious.

We’re encouraged to dip our next dish, a poppy seed biscotti, into our sweet stout microbrew before topping it with dank blue cheese.

There’s a murmur of surprised appreciation as the buzzed crowd bit into their slightly sopping biscottis. The cheese’s saltiness contrasted pleasantly with the velvety finish of the stout.

The last round was Florida Beer Company’s Gaspar’s Porter paired with French toast and Nutella ice cream. The dining room grew noisy, all reserve gone as we swirled the ice cream on our plates and washed it down with the rich dark beer.

Epicurean hotel's French toast and porter

French toast topped with glorious Nutella ice cream. Yes.

Earlier on my notes include terms like “delicate finish”, “acidic notes of local citrus” and “earthy aroma.”

But for this pairing, all I wrote down was “yes.”

Tips For Pairing Beer With Food

Want to make your own beer and food combinations? Follow these guidelines. But don’t forget, half the fun is experimenting!

  • Malty beers ease the heat of spicy foods
  • Hoppy beers, on the other hand, extend the spiciness of hot foods
  • Hoppy beers also contrast sweet foods, cheeses and desserts
  • Beers with a lot of malt flavor work well with grilled and smoked foods

See more photos from the dinner on Flickr »

Greg and I were guests of the Epicurean. But as always, all opinions are our own. To see a full list of upcoming lessons at the Epicurean Hotel, see the class schedule.

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