Beer and Food Pairing

If someone in the Food Writing industry mentions “food pairing”, typically it’s implied that they mean pairing wine with food.  Some restaurants are even helpful enough to annotate their food fare with suggested wine pairings.  A lot of restaurants train their wait staff on wine pairing.  But a new trend has been picking up steam: Beer and Food Pairing.  This trend likely stems from the upswing in popularity of craft beers and a lot more people drinking microbrews and, let’s face it, GOOD beer.

Beer and food pairing is not so different from wine and food pairing.  You just need to find the beer that compliments the dish.  As with wine pairing, there are conflicting opinions on how this is accomplished.  Some people feel that you should choose a beer that has a similar taste profile as the food you are eating in order to build on the flavors in the food and the beer.  Others (myself included) believe that the beer should starkly contrast the food, thus cleansing the palate and making every bite of food just as flavorful and amazing as the first.

Guidelines

  • In general, the rule is like with like.  So if you are eating a lighter food, go with a lighter beer and vice versa.
  • Spicy foods are best paired with light ales.  The light, crisp flavor of the light ales cut the spice of the food.  More complex beers have a very nuanced flavor that would be completely masked by the spice in spicy food.
  • Pizza is a greasy, tangy, delicious nightmare.  Amber ales are carbonated and light enough to cut the grease from the meat and cheese while the hoppy flavor plays against the acidity in the tomato sauce.
  • Fruity desserts are best paired with wheat beers.  These beers have a natural sweetness and their is a citrusy, spicy aspect to these beers that comes out with this type of dessert.
  • Heavy dessert are balanced well with Imperial or sweet stouts.
  • Because of how greasy fried foods can be, pilsners are a good choice.  Pilsners have a crisp bite to them that cuts through the grease to cleanse the palate, but doesn’t have quite the bite that a pale ale does to overwhelm the flavor of the food.

Beer and Cheese

One of the biggest trends involving beer pairing is pairing with cheese, which used to be exclusive to the wine community.  While I’ve never toyed with this, from what I’ve heard, the rule of thumb is the more pungent the cheese, the stronger the flavor in the beer you want to pair it with.  If you feel like hosting one of these beer and cheese tasting parties, here are some pairings to help you start:

  • Feta and Goat Cheese with Wheat Beers
  • Mascarpone (a cheese generally used in desserts) with Fruit Beers
  • Muenster, Havarti or Monterey Jack with moderately hoppy Pilsners
  • Colby or Cheddar with robust Brown Ales
  • Roquefort or Stilton (very pungent cheeses) with Strong Belgian Ales
  • Gruyere or Swiss (meaty flavored cheeses) with Bock, Dark Lagers or Oktoberfest (anything really malty).
  • Parmesan or Romano with Pale or Amber Ales.

Beer and Wine Comparisons

If you’re just starting out in either realm of food pairing, it can be a little difficult.  Some restaurants have wine suggestions for each entree on the menu.  That’s great if you’re a wine drinker, but it doesn’t help the beer drinkers.  You can use the following table (found at Epicurious.com) to make a decision on your beer choice based on the wine selection given on a menu:

Light Body
Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Pinot Grigio
Beers: Lager, Pilsner, Wheat

Medium Body
Wines: Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah
Beers: Ale, IPA, Bock

Heavy Body
Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Oaky Chardonnay
Beers: Stout, Porter, Barleywine

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