Just like a good wine pairing, pairing beer with the right meal will enhance the flavor of both.
Beer pairing is no different than wine pairing – the wrong choice in beer can overwhelm the taste of food being served, while the right choice can enhance a diner’s enjoyment. With so many types of delicious craft beer on the market, it can be an overwhelming choice to make. The three principal concepts to keep in mind when choosing a beer pairing are cut, complement and contrast.
Before a beer can be paired with any type of food, it must be tasted. How can one know the characteristics of the beer without tasting it? Malty beers can be either sweet or dry, just like wine. A beer with lots of hops can have a fruity tang of citrus. Some beers are full-bodied, creamy, and rich, while others are light and acidic. Taste the beer to determine what flavors are the most prominent.
Beer Pairings that Cut
Sometimes, a cook wants to cut through the richness of a dish heavy with milk, butter, or eggs. Alternatively, the cook may want to cut the fire of spicy dishes.
In the first case, a light, hoppy beer will cut through fatty, buttery tastes. Try a Pilsner, pale ale, or IPA. These beers also pair excellently with fried foods.
To cool the tongue after partaking of a spicy meal, a malty beer with high alcohol by volume percentage works best. The alcohol cleanses the palate faster than drinking water, and the sweet malt soothes and refreshes. A German bock is a perfect pairing with spicy foods, or try an extra special bitter (ESB) that is on the malty side.
Beer Pairings that Complement
A simple way to choose a complementary beer is to match the type of cuisine (Japanese, French, American, etc.) with the region where the beer is brewed.
For instance, if the menu includes a traditional English dish like shepherd’s pie, choose an English brown ale as a complement. With tempura, try a Japanese beer like Asahi Super Dry.
Another way to choose a beer complement is to pair like flavors together. This is particularly effective with desserts. Many stouts have a rich, chocolate character that makes them ideal for pairing with a decadent chocolate cake. A fairly common flavored beer is the coffee porter, which pairs well with almost any dessert, but particularly nicely with tiramisu.
Beer Pairings that Contrast
This type of pairing is a little trickier than the previous two. It can be difficult to choose a beer that contrasts flavors in a dish without overwhelming them.
Hefeweizen, or wheat beer, frequently has strong overtones of yeast. To maximize diners’ enjoyment of the yeasty flavor, serve dishes that are light and simple, such as pasta or a delicate soup.
Lagers are good, all-around beers to serve with food, due to their medium body and balance of malt and hops. Choose highly spiced, flavorful dishes like curry or chili to go with mild-mannered lager.
Contrasting beer pairings also work well when there is beer in the dish being served. Beer might be added to a salad dressing to add depth of flavor, or used to marinate meats or steam sausages. In these cases, choose a beer to drink that contrasts the flavor of the beer in the food to avoid having diners’ palates awash in a single flavor.
There are no definitive rules for pairing beer with food, however, so each cook should rely on her own palate to guide her. Experiment with different pairings and begin to discover how beer and food enhance and change each other’s flavors.