Suggested wine pairings have been an element of fine dining menus for years. But what about beer pairings? Just like the seasonal menus at noblehops, many restaurants are starting to suggest which beers go with which dishes. The correct balance between the beer and the food can enrich the flavors your taste buds experience with every bite and sip. If you’ve ever wanted to match the perfect beer to your home-cooked meal, you can. Just follow some of the suggestions offered here.
• Identify the strongest flavor characteristics in the food and the beer. Both foods and beers can be described as heavy, light, dry, sweet, sour, bitter, acidic, or fruity. Some beers can also be described as silky, tannic, sparkling, or puckering.
• Once you’ve identified the flavor elements of the dish or the desired drink, find the best balance of those characteristics. You generally want the beer to be “calming” or “complementary” to the food. For example: sweet calms sweet (think a stout with vanilla ice cream), acidic calms salty (as in tomatoes and mozzarella), bitter calms sweet (like an India Pale Ale with a not-too-sweet cake), and glutenous, or umami, complements glutenous (such as an aged ale with fruitcake).
• You can also think of the pairing in terms of how the flavors will interact with each other — Hoppy, bitter, malty, or carbonic beers will balance well with sweet or rich, fatty foods, whereas sweet, malty beers will balance out spicy or acidic foods. Likewise, bitter, hoppy beers will emphasize the heat in spicy foods.
• A final way to come up with a good food-and-beer pairing is to approach the combination in the same way you would approach pairing wine with a meal. Just as light-, medium-, and full-bodied wines should be paired to complementary or contrasting food flavors, those same foods can be paired with heavy-, medium-, or light-bodied beers. The light-body beers are lager, pilsner, wheat, and cider; the medium-body beers are ale, India pale ale, and bock; and the heavy-body beers are stout, porter, and barley wine.
To see these suggestions in practical terms, here are some examples.
• Pair porter with smoked foods, barbecue, chili, bacon, and rich meats, stews, and sausages.
• Pair ales with burgers, wings, pizza, and Asian or Mexican food.
• Pair lager with seafood, light pasta dishes, grilled pork or chicken, and spicy food.
• Pair wheat beers with soups and salads, vegetarian dishes, sweet Asian dishes, or citrus.
• Pair cider with white meat, duck, pork, and fruity desserts.
Keep in mind that the temperature of the food and the beer, as well as the environmental temperature, will also affect the overall tasting experience. It’s also good to be reminded that too much complexity can be a bad thing, so you may not want to pair a very complex beer with an over-the-top meal; simplicity will allow the flavors to get their full play on your tongue. As with all taste combinations, these methods of creating pairings are just suggestions. Creativity, great ingredients, and a little know-how can take you a long way when it comes to choosing the best partners for a meal.
Now you can come up with your own pairings at home, or try them the next time you go out to eat.