How to Pair Beer with Food

Posted on November 17th, 2009


For too long, wine has been the sole companion to fine dining, while beer has been relegated to tailgates and parties. Don’t get me wrong, nothing beats a beer on its own when you’re relaxing with your friends, but that’s not all beer can do. Beer pairs amazingly well with a variety of foods. Enjoying a great meal with the proper beer can enhance them both, making a good dining experience into a great dining experience. Today we’re going to look at the basics of how to pair beer with food.

When pairing food with beer, there are two basic approaches. The first is to match the flavors of your food with similar flavors in your beer, and the second is to contrast the flavors of your meal with a beer on the flip side of the palate. To better illustrate these ideas, let’s take a look at an example- pairing beer with Indian cuisine.

Spicy Indian dishes like chana masala or chicken korma are delicious, but they don’t always go well with wine. Hot and spicy foods are notoriously difficult to pair with wine, but beer makes a great companion. The spicy hops in an India Pale Ale can match the spices and the herbs in the food perfectly. The similar flavors from both are blended together on your palate to create a fusion of spicy goodness; this is what matching flavors is all about. A great IPA to pair with Indian food is Hazed & Infused from Boulder Beer Co., which has some wonderfully bitter Crystal and Centennial hops in it.

Instead of pairing a meal with a beer that will match the flavors of the food, you can pick a beer that will offer a contrast in flavor, something that will balance out the spiciness of Indian cuisine and refresh the palate. The fruity, crisp flavors of a hefeweizen like Paulaner make a great counterpoint to curry and other intense Indian flavors.  It cleans the taste buds with its intense carbonation and cools them down with flavors of banana and cloves.

Even if Indian food’s not your thing, this example should give a basic idea of how food pairing works. Once you understand the concept of matching and contrasting different flavors it’s time to experiment with the pairings you like best. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it. One thing to keep in mind though is to keep the intensity of the food flavors consistent with the intensity of the beer flavors.

Don’t let your beer overpower your meal (or vicea versa.) A big hoppy and malty barleywine like Big Foot from Sierra Nevada can certainly offer a contrast to many different meals, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to pair it with a subtle dish like lobster. If enjoyed together the barleywine will undoubtedly dominate your palate, drowning out the lobster’s delicate flavors and hurting the meal. A more subtle and nuanced beer like Chimay’s Belgian Triple would help bring out the complicated flavors in seafood. A beer as bold as Big Foot would properly do well against a meal with a similar level of intensity such as barbecue pork, which matches the sweet and spicy flavors of the beer. This is just a suggestion though, to discover what you like you should explore as many beer and food pairings as you can.

What are some of your favorite beer and food pairings? Let us know next time you try it by tweeting what you drank and adding the ‘#mybeer’ hashtag.

On Thursday, we’re going to take a more in depth look at how to pair beer with a meal many of us well be enjoying next week- Thanksgiving. Be sure to tune in then for suggestions on what beers go best with traditional Thanksgiving favorites.