Beerginner: Pairing Beer and Food, Plus Pilsners

beer and chicken meal

Beerginner: Pairing Beer and Food, Plus Pilsners

When you hear the words "food and drink pairing”, you may instantly think of wine. 

Traditionally, our vinous friends have been the star of many great flavour combinations. Did you know you can just as easily pair food with beer? In fact because of the vast array of tastes each and every style can produce, beer can create an even more complex and diverse dining experience.

The guidelines we follow for wine pairing also apply to beer. Lighter beers are more suited to lighter dishes while darker beers work well with heartier fare.  That doesn't mean those rules can't be broken. Malt, with its light to dark caramel roastiness, hops with a range of grassy to citrus bitterness and yeast with spicy or fruity esters can all be utilized in their own separate ways with unlimited possibilities.

It's important to look at the 3 C's when picking a beer (or beers) to have alongside a meal.

Complement - This is the easiest and most comfortable method of pairing beer with food. A fruity beer will easily work next to a fruity dessert or a stout with anything chocolate. You do want to be careful that you don't weigh down a meal with too much of a good thing.

Cut - Sometimes you want a beer that will counteract a sensation or taste a particular dish provides. A malt forward beer with a caramel sweetness can cut through the heat of a spicy plate while the bitterness of a hoppy beer is perfect at breaking through the richness of a fatty dish.

Contrast - Remember how popular pretzels in desserts became? In some cases you want flavours from both the food and beer to shine through (in this case sweet and salty).  A hoppy beer with a lot of malt characteristics will allow the heat of spicy food to peek through without it being obnoxious.

You should also consider what part of the dish you really want to highlight. The protein isn't always the star of the show. In the case of desserts, is it the rich cheesecake you want people talking about or the caramel sauce dripping down its sides? Sauces and dressing can be important components of a dish. You also don't want to upset a secondary flavour with an inappropriate beer style either.

Other points to keep in mind:

  • Carbonation can also cut through richness and fat. Bubbles in beer are great at cleansing the palate and can make a seemingly heavy dish taste lighter.
  • Colder served beers like lagers and pilsners also provide a cooling effect to the palate when eating a spicy dish.
  • Alcohol and hops can accentuate heat making a dish seem hotter than it is.

There is almost no right or wrong answer when pairing beer with food.  With the myriad of flavour profiles each beer has and the endless choices of culinary creations the best you can do is experiment with what seems comfortable to you.  Remember the best beer is the one you are enjoying so how can you go wrong?

Coming up next I break down food and beer further and discuss how wonderful it works with cheese!

Check out my guide to pilsners below.

Cheers! 

Heather 

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