Beer Fact Friday: Beer/Food Pairing Basics
Any attendee of one of our beer dinners will tell you that the right beer paired with the right food can elevate the entire eating experience. But how do you choose the right beer to pair with the dishes you make at home? Just remember your ABCs:
ALIGN: Match the overall intensity of the beer with the overall intensity of the dish. A barleywine—with its rich malt flavors, high bitterness, and booziness—will overpower all but the most flavorful foods, so you don’t want to match it with, say, a salad. Take the beer’s bitterness, flavor, and alcohol content into account, and consider how they’ll stand up to the flavor, cooking methods, and levels of fat, sweetness, bitterness, and acidity in the dish. Make sure you consider the impact of added spices or sauces, too. When the strength of the food matches the strength of the beer, the fun begins.
BRIDGE: Find flavors in the beer that will harmonize with those found in the dish. The ingredients in beer are processed much in the same way food is (many malts are kilned and undergo the same maillard browning as toasted bread and grilled meat, for instance). And in many cases, the compounds that create flavors in beer are the exact same compounds you find in those foods. Ever had an IPA that reminded you of grapefruits? That’s because the aromatic oils found in grapefruit peels are the same found in many hop varieties. When you’re approaching a pairing, think about the flavors that exist in both the beer and the dish, and find ways to connect them with one another. For example, a plate of Indian curry made with cloves might work well with a Hefeweizen, which is known for its clovelike aroma. The flavor interactions can also complement one another: A nutty brown ale paired with a dish featuring strawberries might give the impression of peanut butter and jelly, for instance.
CUT/CONTRAST: Beer’s bitterness, carbonation, and alcohol content make it uniquely qualified to go up against rich, fatty dishes and sweet desserts. These traits can act like a zamboni for your tongue, cleaning it of fatty flavors and refreshing your palate. An imperial IPA like Double Knot is a classic choice to taste with cheesecake, as the beer’s sky-high bitterness and alcohol warmth cut right through the creamy cake. You can also use the flavor of a beer to contrast certain aspects of a dish while highlighting others. A sour, funky Belgian lambic or gueuze might seem like it wants to play nice, but pair it with mussels and the dish will seem richer and sweeter due to the ale’s acidity.
Tasted any pairings recently that you thought worked really well? Let’s hear ‘em in the comments.