Pairing Beer and Food

Pairing beer and food is a hot topic in gastronomic circles these days. Everyone knows a little about pairing food with wine and rules like, “red wine goes with red meat” and “white wine goes with fish” are relevant for beer as well.

To understand the connection between beer and wine, you must understand the basic difference between the two major types of beer.

Ales are fermented at warm temperatures and feature fruity aromas and flavors with a rich maltiness. Lagers on the other hand are fermented at much cooler temperatures and display crisp, clean and refreshing flavors.

The round rich mouthfeel and fruity flavors and aromas of ales compare well with those of Cabernet, Merlot, and Cote de Rhone.

The dry finish and light clean character of most lagers equates with the same characteristics of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

The problem with pairing beer and food is that there are not many rules to go by. Experimentation is encouraged and can be a lot of fun.

For instance, instead of pairing a Chardonnay with seafood, why not select a lightly hopped lager instead.

Or, when ordering a rich hearty steak, why not pair it with a nice amber ale or porter? 

One fundamental rule when pairing beer and food is that the hops used for bittering beer equates with the acidity in wines.

When a meal calls for a wine with a lot of acidity, such as the spicy heat of Szechuan dishes, or with salty and fatty foods, substitute lagers or ales with a lot of hop bitterness to cut the spice, salt or fat in the dish.

When ordering a seafood alfredo for instance, the fat and oils in the cream sauce need a palate cleanser to get rid of the buttery sauce coating the mouth. A nice IPA or hoppy pale ale work perfectly for this task. The hoppy beer cuts through the spice and grease and cleanses the palate, enhancing the next bite.

When complementing the beer with the food, look for similar characteristics.

A dark malty beer like a porter or amber ale complements the charred caramelization of a nice grilled steak. Click here to see what the secret ingredient is to the best grilled steaks on the planet!  When complementing a dish, the idea is to enrich the defining characteristics of the food with similar characteristics from the beer.

Many beers such as Bohemian Pilsners use the spicy hop called Saaz for flavor and bittering. Why not pair the spicy notes from the Saaz hops with the spiciness in most Asian dishes?

Another popular pairing is the chocolate and roasted flavors and aromas in a stout with just about any rich chocolate dessert. Learn more about pairing beer and chocolate here.

Another method of pairing beer and food is by contrasting the flavors of one with the other. You may have heard about pairing stout and oysters, but what about pairing a light lager with a spicy Mexican platter of enchiladas?

The beer loses itself in the combination, but provides a refreshing and moderating effect on the palate. 

Related: What’s the Difference Between Dark Beer and Light Beer?

Pairing Beer and Food Belgian Style

When pairing food and beer, why not think like the Belgians do? They are not afraid of experimenting when brewing or cooking with their beers.

If you are new to the idea of pairing food and beer, and have always drank wine instead, here’s an idea. Try a nice Flemish Red Ale like Duchesse du Bourgogne with your next Rib Eye. It’s a sweet, fruity ale with a nice sour finish and is a great introduction to pairing food and beer.

To download a “Craft Beer & Food Pairing Guide” from, CLICK HERE.

References: Information for this article was adapted from, Six Billion Stories food article about Bringing Beer to the Table, written by Chuck Hahn on 11 May, 2009, and the article in entitled Brewing Up Flavor by Stephen Beaumont.  Get a copy of Garrett Oliver’s Brewmaster’s Table from Brooklyn .

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