There are thousands of different flavors that beer can impart, so pairing beers with food can seem daunting. Here are some simple guidelines to follow when pairing beers with food, along with a nice reference chart.
1. Match Intensity with Intensity
Delicate dishes work best with delicate beers, and strongly-flavored foods demand assertive beers. Intensity of flavor is not any single thing, but a sum of the taste experience. In beer, it may involve alcoholic strength, malt character, hop bitterness, sweetness, richness, roastiness, or more. In food, richness (fat), sweetness, cooking methods, spicing, texture and complexity all play a role.
2. Find Harmonies
Combinations often work best when they share common flavors or aroma elements. The nutty flavors of an English-style brown ale and a handmade cheddar cheese; the deep, roasted flavors of imperial stout and chocolate truffles; the clean caramelly flavors of an Oktoberfest lager and roasted pork are all examples of this. You can find harmonies by grouping like flavors found in both beers and food.
- Smoked: Bacon, hickory, maple barbecue, wood fire
Earthy root vegetables: beet, carrot, potato, yam
Green: grass, hay, herbal, tealike
Tropical Fruit: guava, passion fruit, mango, papaya
Stone Fruit: peach, nectarine, apricot
Spicy Herbs: ginger, mustard, horseradish, cinnamon
Pepper Spice: jalapeno, habanero, serrano, ghost pepper
Creamy nuts: pistachio, cashew, pine nut, hazelnut
3. Consider Sweetness, Bitterness, Carbonation, Heat (Spice), and Richness
Certain qualities of food and beer interact with each other in specific, predictable ways. Taking advantage of these interactions ensures that the food and beer will balance each other, with one partner not throwing the other out of whack. You can find flavors in both the beer and food that will enhance one another.
Foods that have a lot of sweetness or fatty richness can be matched by various elements in beer: hop bitterness, sweetness, roasted/toasted malt or alcohol. Carbonation is also effective at cutting richness.
Malty sweetness cools the heat, so if you’re leaning to a hoppy beer with spicy food, make sure it has plenty of malt as well.
4. Complement and/or Contrast
Complement is the same as finding harmonies. Contrast needs to be delicately done and follow match intensities as described above to not overpower the contrasting flavor. A majority of contrasting is done by the interaction of different flavor elements listed above. For example, the bitterness of an IPA contrasts against the sweetness of a cheesecake, the contrasting elements - bitterness and sweetness - lessen each other, allowing flavors to shine through brighter. However, when the same IPA contrasts with a hot spicy dish, the bitter and spice qualities are emphasized instead.
5. Cut and Suppress
This is a former of contrasting when one characteristic lessens another and it’s harder to detect those original characteristics, thus letting other characteristics shine. There are different degrees of cut or suppression. It can have a soothing effect, as when a sweet beer soothes capsaicin heat in food. Cutting also occurs from carbonation and acidity, often with an effect that is called ‘cance;’ or ‘cleanse’.
6. Emphasize or Enhance
Also known as potentiation, is when food and beer elements combine to make each part more strongly perceived than on its own. Salty foods accentuate and bring out residual sugar sweetness in beer, with the combined pairing resulting in emphasized flavor overall. Even a Belgian-style wit, which is not a sweet style, can taste sweeter when paired with something like salted eggs.
7. Palate Rest
Occurs when beer or food ingredients provide a break for your senses, or resets your palate. Some examples include:
- Pickle next to a corned beef sandwich
Coleslaw next to a Reuben
Shaved ginger with sushi rolls
Parsley as garnish on the side of a plate
- Beer between bites of food!