Beer and Food, How do I Pair These?

When we used to think about pairing food with a drink it was always wine.  Today, welcome the idea of beer.  Which for a new craft beer convert is … awesome!  In larger cities across the country, beer sommeliers are popping up.  What on earth is a beer sommelier?  They are also known as a Cicerone and specialize in the service and knowledge of beer.  You can become certified through various organizations.  One that caught my eye is the one offered by The Craft Beer Institute.  It intrigued me as a way to learn more about beer, I will keep you updated on how far I go with that.  But, back to beer and food pairing.

In a way, you will, through trial and error, become your own Beer Sommelier or Cicerone.  The first, and the most important rule is:

Drink what you like because there is no wrong answer!

Complementary or Contrasting Flavors

When pairing beer and food you can either complement or contrast the flavors.  Think spicy to spicy or fruity to fruity or chocolate to chocolate, you get the idea.  A heavy beer served with a heavy food, a chocolate porter served with a slice of chocolate cake.  On the other side is contrasting flavors.  A lighter beer served with a heavy food.  Here the idea would be a steak served with a cream sauce.

Compare Beer to Wine

So, in some respects, beer is a lot like wine in its flavor profile.  But, beer has many more flavor enhancers than wine.  Barley is added for sweetness.  Hops add bitterness.  Yeast gives beer its “bready” flavor.  Then brewmasters can add even more levels of flavor with spices, nuts, chocolate, and fruits.

If you know what kind of wine you would serve with a dish, then translate that to its beer counterpart.  Lagers are like white wine.  They are each crisp and light.  Ales are a lot like red wine.  They each tend to be robust and fruity.  Here are some examples of wines and their counterparts based on the body of the wine.

  • Light Body
    • Wines:  Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio
    • Beers:  Lager, Pilsner, Wheat
  • Medium Body
    • Wines:  Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah
    • Beers:  Ale, IPA, Bock
  • Heavy Body
    • Wines:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay
    • Beers:  Stout, Porter, Barley Wine

Texture and Timing

Bubbles cut through fatty foods.  That’s why an ice cold Coke tastes so good with a greasy hamburger and fries.  So, when eating a pizza, the best choice is a higher carbonated beer.  It will cut through the acid of the tomato sauce and the heavy cheese layer.  A porter or a stout would be much too heavy and a wheat beer maybe too light.  In this example, choose an Ale, Pilsner or a Lager.  They offer higher carbonation and are light in flavor, but not too light.

As to timing, this is much like wine.  At a wine tasting, they always start with the lightest and then transition to the darkest.  Something goes for beer.  If you plan to serve multiple beers with the food, start with the lightest beer and end with the darkest.  Darke beers, such as porters and stouts, will overwhelm your taste buds and all of the subtle notes of the lighter beers will be lost.

Suggested Beer Pairings

In the end, there is a lot of options.  Again, I refer you back to the first and the most important rule – Drink What you Like.  I can say since I am a lager kinda girl, I probably wouldn’t choose an IPA to pair with my spicy food.  See… no wrong answers.  Experiment and see what flavors you like together.  I have included a quick overview to get you started.  I can’t take full credit for the list as I find a really cool food pairing chart from The Brewer Association.  The chart not only has food pairing ideas, but best glass and temperature to serve the beer.  Check out the chart below.

Blonde Ale – Lighter foods

Pale Ale – Wide range of foods

IPA – Strong or spicy

Amber Red Ale – Wide range of foods

Brown Ale – Hearty foods

Porter – Roasted or smoked foods

Oatmeal Stout – Rich, spicy foods

Hefeweizen – Lighter foods

Wheat Ale – Very light foods

Witbier – Lighter seafood

Pilsner – Light foods

beer and food pairing chart
Food Pairing Chart from The Brewer Association

(sources:  epicuriuous.com, brewerassociation.com and personal knowledge)

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