Beer Pairing 101

Finally, beer is getting some respect. Back in the day, the only alcoholic beverage you could pair with food is wine. Even then, it was looked upon as snobby and unnecessary. Red for beef, white for chicken and fish, what more do you need to know? If you suggested pairing beer with a meal...well, you could expect peals of laughter at your expense.

Now, there are well over 2,000 craft breweries, creating massive choices when it comes to suds. Add onto that the rising popularity of home distillery, where you can brew and name your own beer, and be limited only by your ambition and imagination when it comes to creating flavors. Now that we’re more sophisticated when it comes to beer, we’re learning that, like wine, it has the ability to elevate a meal when paired correctly. But what’s the best beer to pair with something like, say, artisan sausage? Glad you asked.

  • Brown Ales-This kind of beer has woody or nutty flavors and leans on the heavy side. It goes nicely with sausage, roast pork, or grilled chicken.
  • Stouts-These ales have very heavy and dramatic tastes, and their finish is often similar to coffee or a dark chocolate. Try it alongside steaks, chops, shellfish, or chocolate based desserts.
  • Pale Ales-These beers are the Goldilocks of ales, not too light, not too heavy, but just right. You can pair them up with salads, soups, pizza, or burgers.
  • Lagers-These beers are known for a light and crisp taste. Pair them up with fish or dishes like curry that feature dramatic flavors.
  • Wheat Beers-Hefeweizen falls into this category, and they feature a taste that has notes of citrus and a little fizz. Salads, veggie dishes, and sushi pair up well with them.

    So now that you know about some basic categories of beer, let’s briefly talk about a few pairing tips.

    • If you’re a fan of wine, beer follows a lot of the same pairing rules. Try to imagine lagers being like white wine, whereas ales are closer in spirit to red wine. Then, feel free to experiment with adding a good lager to salmon, or a hearty ale to a Porterhouse steak.
    • The hoppier your beer is, the more you want to pair it with a food with bold flavor. Hops control the amount of bitterness in beer, but if you have a beer like an IPA that’s heavy on hops with a dish that’s blandly flavored, the IPA will totally overwhelm it. For big flavored foods like steaks, try a solid stout or porter.
    • Believe it or not, but beer pairs really well with desserts. A general rule of thumb is to make sure the sugars contents of both are relatively balanced. However, pairing chocolate with a dry stout is amazing, and not for the faint of heart.
    • When pairing, your beers should either compliment the flavors of your meal or contrast with it. A fruity wheat beer goes great with fruit. A unique contrast is a crisp lager served alongside a heavy cream-based soup.
    • Bubbles are the secret weapon that beer boasts. They act as a natural palate cleanser, and prep you for the next bite. If you’re having fatty foods, such as fried fish, a Belgian ale will have lots of bubbles to refresh you.
    • Finally, everybody has different preferences. If you haven’t settled on a favorite, try different combinations. Sooner or later, you’ll discover your new favorite.