Beer & Food Pairing Taste-Off

By Anthony Orig’s Julia Herz has become known for hosting The Beer & Food Pairing Taste-Off at some of the biggest beer events across the country, including SAVOR, Washington DC; Big Beers, Belgians, & Barleywines, Vail, Colo. and most recently the World Beer Festival, Durham, N.C.

This event has become a coveted award to receive by brewers who pay attention to the food pairing world. And, by the way, the event has had several names but we’ve settled on “Taste-Off,” feeling that that term best describes the competition, drama and spirit of education that occurs during these crazy seminars.


In these taste-offs, Herz pits four contenders in a head-to-head contest to see who can choose the best craft beer from a small and independent brewer to pair with a predetermined dish. The contenders answer a few questions about the style of the beer, ingredients, brewing process and what they are trying to achieve with their chosen beer. The catch is that the audience members (who also serve as the judges) will not know the brand of the beer until after they have voted for the winner.

In addition to learning beer and food pairing basics, the audience is asked to focus on what makes the pairings better than the individual components. The contenders also give their thoughts on fundamental pairing principles, working in the craft beer industry and often discuss beer vs. wine at the dinner table.

8th Beer & Food Pairing Taste-Off

2011 World Beer Festival Durham, N.C.

The Dish: Mole Poblano


The predetermined dish for this challenge was provided by Chef Charlie Deal of Dos Perros, a classic Mexican cuisine resturant in Durham who graciously agreed to provide the food: Mole Poblano.

According to Chef Charlie Deal, “Mole Poblano has about 40 ingredients and in a well-made version you really shouldn’t be able to noticeably pick out any single one. It should be a bit spicy, a bit sweet, rich, but not heavy, and loaded with nuance and flavors. Some of the ingredients include Ancho, Pasilla Negro and Guajillo chiles, almonds, raisins, anise, cumin, coriander, sesame, Mexican chocolate, tomatillo, and pumpkin seed. The mole was served with chicken, onion, green peppers, and butternut squash along with some tortillas to dip in the sauce.”

The Pairings

  • Contestant: Josh Brewer
    Beer: Dark Cloud Munich-Style Dunkel Lager
    Brewery: Mother Earth Brewing Company | Kinston, N.C.
  • Contestant: Charlie Deal
    Beer: Robust Porter
    Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Company | Portsmouth, N.H.
  • Contestant: Jamie Bartholomaus
    Beer: India Style Brown Ale
    Brewery: Foothills Brewing | Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Contestant: Doug Odell (Odell Brewing)
    Beer: Southern Tropic Imperial Saison
    Brewery: Funkwerks | Fort Collins, Colo.

darkcloudThe Winner

Josh Brewer from Mother Earth Brewing with their Dark Cloud Munich Dunkel Lager.

Brewer says he was “aiming to not overpower the mole, but to still have a beer with some similar tastes and that would cut the heat.” He used Dark Cloud as a palate cleanser and aimed for complementary flavors instead of competing with the mole.

“[Dark Cloud] has a bit of roasted flavor to compliment the mole, but when you had the dish you could still taste all the flavors right after taking a sip.”

Congratulations Josh!

Past Beer & Food Pairing Taste-Off Winners

2011 World Beer Festival: Josh Brewer | Mother Earth Brewing Company | Dark Cloud Munich Dunkel paired with Mole Poblano.

2011 SAVOR: Matt Bean of Men’s Health | Two Brothers Brewing Company’s Askew paired with Devil’s on Horseback.

 Listen to this competition in the Craft Beer Seminars section.

2011 Big Beers: Steven Pauwels | Boulevard Brewing Company | Boulevard Tank 7 Saison paired with Grafton Aged Cheddar Reserve

2010 Big Beers: Steven Pauwels | Boulevard Brewing Company | Bourbon Barrel Aged Quadrupel paired with Crème Brulée Ice Cream

2009 SAVOR: Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast Magazine | Deschutes Dissident paired with Candela Bonbons from Chuao Chocolateiers and Maytag Blue Cheese

2009 Big Beers: Will Myers | Cambridge Brewing Company | Barleywine paired with Point Reyes Original Blue

2008 SAVOR: Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast Magazine | Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron paired with Parmesan Reggiano

2008 Big Beers: Peter Bouckaert | New Belgium Brewing Company | Le Fleur paired with Grafton Two Year-Aged Cheddar

Anthony Orig

Anthony Orig is the current Craft Beer Program Intern at the Brewers Association. He attends the University of Colorado at Boulder and will be graduating in December 2011 with degrees in Environmental Studies and Geography. As an avid outdoor enthusiast, he enjoys craft brews the most after long days of exploring in the mountains. Still new to the craft beer brewing world, he looks forward to learning more about the industry and meeting the people behind the beer. Follow his daily beer and mountain adventures on Twitter.