Some food and drink just go hand-in-hand: cookies and milk, pasta and wine, and hot dogs and beer, for example. But actually, beer is such a versatile beverage that relegating it to only being paired with hot dogs (and occasionally wings) would be a crime. With a wide range of weights and flavors, beer can complement any food from salads to barbecue- as long as you follow three foundational principles of beer and food pairing.
First, balance the weights of the beer and food by mirroring the intensity of the beer with that of the food. For example, darker, more robust beers (like stouts and porters) pair well with richer foods like barbecue or chili. On the other end of the spectrum, lighter beers like pilsners and kölsch enhance salads and seafood. Medium body beers include wheat ales, India pale ales, and brown ales. Rich food will overpower delicate beer, and robust beer will overpower light food, so keep the weights fairly even.
Next, compare and contrast the components of the beer and the food. The ingredients in beer can create different flavors and mouth-feel, and understanding these components can help you compare or contrast the flavors and textures in a dish. Malt, for example, causes a sweet taste in beer, which complements other sweet flavors while contrasting with space, acidity, bitterness and saltiness. In this principle, you can experiment with comparisons and contrasts to find the flavor profile you’re trying to achieve; however, keeping the principle of “balance” in mind will also help with this step.
Finally, bridge the ingredients in your cuisine with the aromas and flavors in beer to solidify your pairing. Follow your nose to choose complementary flavors; flavors such as cinnamon, cumin, and pepper could lead you to accompany a porter with hoisin beef shish kebabs, whereas a milk stout with a hint of cocoa could lead your nose towards a double chocolate cake. Again, bridging flavors becomes easier when you balance the weights of both beer and food.
Advanced and Unconventional Pairings
Of course, even a dedicated food enthusiast may get trapped into only pairing beer with distinctly American cuisine- burgers, pizza, wings, and the like. However, with a little creativity and a bit of international food knowledge, you can pair any international dish with a perfect beer.
Some of our favorites? Instead of pairing sushi with sake, try a German pilsner; the light body and high carbonation of German pilsner accentuates the freshness of most sushi. Vietnamese fresh spring rolls call for a India pale ale, with hops that highlight the freshness of the vegetables in the spring roll. Argentina is famous for its grilled steak with chimichurri, which can hold up next to a dark, hearty porter.
A panang curry from Thailand features dried chili peppers and lemongrass- perfect for bridging the flavors of a creamy Wit ale and its added coriander and orange peel. Finally, if you’re craving a traditional American barbecue dish of pork ribs, grab an amber ale from your fridge; the medium body and malt profile can stand up to the intensity of the barbecue, and the beer’s slight sweetness can contrast some of the spice and smokiness.
There’s a beer for every occasion- and every meal, no matter what country’s cuisine has inspired it. By following a few simple principles and paying attention to the aromas and flavors in your beer and food, you can delight your taste buds with new, unexpected flavor combinations.