Pairing Beer with Food

Simple Science

Beer has a lot going for it at the dining table.

First, there’s the malt. Eat a handful of pale malted barley and you’ll taste the sweetly nutty flavor; eat chocolate malt and it’s like roasted coffee. The cereal quality adds a savory taste and is very complementary to food. From the grain comes beer’s body and depth, which can be clean and delicate; nutty and spicy; smooth and full-bodied; caramel-like; dark and roasted; dry or sweet; as light as tonic water; or as heavy as cream.

The body, intensity, and alcohol level of the beer are a key consideration: you want beer and food with similar intensities, you want the alcohol and depth to give structure, and you need the body of the beer to provide either a comforting fullness or a crisp dryness-beer that is thin is never good with food because it gets overpowered Hops provide most of beer’s aroma, and most of our sense of taste is connected to smell. This is where hops can make food really interesting, as zesty, spicy, fragrant, floral, tropical, citrus, earthy, and herbal aromas and flavors can link glass and plate, bridging similar or complementary flavors. Hops also provide bitterness, which can cut through heavy and rich flavors and textures, giving a little kick to the tongue to keep it interested. Just watch out for high levels of bitterness, which can be overpowering-very bitter beers are only good with salty snacks.

In most beers, the yeast contributes a flavor or a delicately fruity note. Generally, as the alcohol content goes up so does the flavor profile; a Helles will be light and delicate, whereas a Doppelbock will be strong, sweet, and fuller bodied. In some styles, yeast also adds to flavor and texture: perhaps it’s the full body and estery aroma of Hefeweizen; the spicy, fruity Wits and their sharp finish;
unfiltered beers with a full body; or Sour beers made sharp by the yeast and bacteria, with their appetite-poking acidity and ability to cut through richness.

Carbonation also contributes and is like a refresh button for the tongue. Beer can sweep across the palate, giving little bubble-bursts of liveliness to keep the tongue from getting bored or too familiar with what it’s tasting.

Or, with the richness of fatty meats or sweet desserts, carbonation is able to lift flavors and lighten them.
The use of fruit, spices, alternative grains coffee, or barrels can all also change the flavor and texture of the beer, pointing it in different directions and toward (or away from) particular types of food.

Approaches to matching

There are different ways to approach beer a food and each method combines the two to achie find the right food to match.

This aims to create a bridge between the food and the beer by looking for similar flavor profiles in both. It means out one or two aspects of the glass and plate that match each other and pull the flavors toward one another. Think about a chocolate brownie with a dark, chocolaty Stout, or marry the subtle, earthy spiciness of Saison with a peppery salad. It’s about matching flavors and putting them together to enhance them.

Full-flavored food can clash with full-con-beers. Sometimes you need a pairing that mellows things out or cuts through a big flavor.

Chili heat is a good example: hops kick out against the heat of chili, causing them to rig BALANCE Full flavored food can clash with full-on beers. Sometimes you need a pairing that mellows things out or cuts through a big flavor.

Hefeweizen, which has a full body and fruitiness plus a low bitterness, can also cool down the scorch of chili heat. It’s not just about heat and any intensely flavored food needs beer to balance it: smoked, oily fish; fragrantly spiced dishes;
sharp, tomato-based dishes; strong cheeses; very salty foods.

With these big flavors, a delicate beer can refresh the palate and keep the experience light, instead of hitting flavor with flavor like two slugging heavyweights. Try beers with a dry or spicy finish (e.g. Wit, Pilsner, Saison), or a bitterness that can cut through fattiness e.g. Pale Ales and IPAs), or the sharpness of Sour beer. The pairing is there to stop things getting oo overpowering by balancing and controlling flavors, and not letting them fight.

Some flavors boost others in the same way that waking up to sunshine can make your day a lot happier. It’s about bringing together different flavors and textures, and making them better than the sum of their parts. For example, smoked beer is like squeezing a syringe of meatiness into steak or sausages; fruity, fat-stripping IPAs cut through the richness of cheeseburgers but also match the condiment-and-cheese combo; and chocolate desserts are lifted and enlivened by sweet and sour cherry beers. The beer adds to the food (or the food adds to the beer) by becoming an extra element in the experience.

There’s an important geographical and seasonal aspect to putting food and beer together. Local beer and local cuisine often have a way of being naturally complementary: dense dumplings and pork with a full-bodied dark lager in Prague; a beef stew that’s earthy, slightly sweet, and intensely savory with an ESB or a Belgian Dubbel; Asian-inspired dishes with tropical-scented Pacific Pale Ales; moules frites with a Belgian Blonde or Wit. Remember seasonal releases, too: as fall descends, drink pumpkin beer with earthy vegetables; choose spiced strong ales with festive turkey, and summer Blondes with light salads.

Some flavors just don’t work together.

Some beers simply don’t work with certain foods: delicate Helles will be obliterated by chocolate; an Imperial Stout will smother any kind of delicate food. Acidity and bitterness crash. Be careful to pair well!