Pairing Beer and Food: A Beginner’s Guide

Escoffier Beer Pairings Infographic

The rapid expansion of the craft beer industry has lead to a seemingly infinite number of food and beer combinations for chefs and foodies alike. Whereas beer menus were once rather stark, the surge in micro-brews allows diners across the nation to take more consideration in which beer they choose to quaff alongside a delicious meal. However, with so many options ranging from hop-forward India Pale Ales and chocolaty bourbon barrel-aged stouts to crisp pilsners and smoky porters, it can be a challenge to deftly pair beer and food.

Mixed philosophies 
For many beer connoisseurs, there are ideal flavor combinations when pairing beer and food. Although, it’s worth noting that aficionados have different takes on this art. For some experts, using complementary flavors such as a smoky porter with smoked barbecue would be a match made in heaven. Others believe contrasting flavors offer a bit more balance. For example, Craft Beer recommends pairing a juicy, grilled cheeseburger with a citrusy American pale ale. Neither philosophy is particularly right or wrong, so learning to pair beer with food to your personal taste is somewhat a matter of trial and error.

However, besides considering the flavor, it’s also important to make a note of the beer’s texture and temperature, according to Epicurious. The carbonation present in beers such as IPAs and lagers make these styles perfect pairings for food that is particularly fatty. Hence, a stout might not be the best match for pub food such as french fries or chicken wings.

General pairings 
While there’s much room for experimentation, especially once you get to know your beer preferences, there are some general pairings that work almost universally. For example, the subtle notes of a crisp pilsner goes well with seafood such as shellfish and sushi. The strong hop profile of IPAs and double IPAs complements bold, spicy dishes, and also contrasts well with rich, sweet desserts such as cheesecake. Sour beers and fruity beers align well with white meat and pickled dishes, as well as fresh dishes such as a green salad garnished with fruit. On the other end of the spectrum, rich stouts provide a strong flavor that goes well with salty foods and hearty cuts of red meat such as steak and lamb.

Once you have mastered pairing beer and food, consider trying to incorporate beer into recipes to take the flavor profile to the next level. For example, when braising chicken you can substitute beer for broth or use a spicy saison to steam a batch of fresh mussels.

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