Once upon a not-too-distant time, the only alcohols that were regularly paired with food by professionals were wines. We all know the regular classic pairings, too. Red wine goes with a well-done steak, white wine goes with seafood. Sake wine goes with sushi, and port goes with a flair for syrupy garbage disguised as culinary masochism.
Thanks to the craft beer explosion, there's a new trend cropping up in gastropubs and breweries across the globe: beer pairings. That's right! Professional beer tasters are now giving their best advice on what beers go best with what foods.
Obviously, beer pairings are just gentle guidelines that are suggested by brewers, and there's no requirement to pair beer with food. But that doesn't mean that there's not some good advice to be found in them.
Certain beers definitely do seem to go well with certain foods. The pairings below almost always guarantee a great meal, balanced with a seriously refreshing brew...or at least, that's what beer gurus are now saying!
Polenta, Risottos, And Creamy Pastas + Amber Lagers
Choosing a light, hoppy beer like an American Amber Lager will work in your favor if you're eating grains or wheat-based dishes like a risotto, creamy pastas, or polenta.
The reason this combination works is because of the hops contained in these light brews. The grain flavors actually complement the hops really well, and the beer provides a refreshing taste without feeling heavy.
If there's no Amber Lagers on the menu, a Bohemian-Style Pilsner or similarly crisp-yet-hoppy brew will do the trick. Brooklyn Lager makes a perfect Amber Lager for this pairing.
Another school of beers that has a tendency of meshing well with the creaminess of pasta and polenta include blonde ales and wheat beers. The reason is that they often will provide a subtle pop of flavor without overpowering it. (Note: This also goes well with pizza.)
Shellfish + Hefeweizen
If you've ever had champagne or white wine with a lobster dinner, then you already have noticed that shellfish tends to do very well with fruity, crisp, and light flavors. (Oh, and it is phenomenal with that fizz!) This is because wine tends to bring out the salinity that makes seafood so flavorful.
Thankfully, there are quite a few beers out there that tend to have somewhat similar flavor profiles to a very dry champagne. German Hefeweizen beer is a top pick among craft beer brewers who do beer pairings. Another favorite is a Belgian-Style Saison.
If you're willing to splurge and want an extremely flavorful beer to match up with an equally flavorful seafood dinner, then going for Lambic fruit beer is a much better option. A sour Lambic beer, such as Lindemans Kriek Lambic, will definitely add a huge pop to your meal. However, Lambics may not be a good match for lightly flavored seafood dinners.
Beef Sirloin, Lamb, Parsnips, or Beets + Lambics
A richly flavored meal deserves a richly flavored drink - and there's really nothing that is more striking in flavor than a Lambic. These fruit-based beers are probably the only drinks that can hold their own against intensely flavored foods, rich steaks, and umami-laden goodies.
If you can't find a Lambic on the menu, another good pairing would be a Flanders red ale. These Belgian ales are known for having high acidity and a slightly sour taste to them. Red ales, in general, are good picks for these kinds of meals because they work so well wth the overall flavors of rich dishes.
Pork Sausages + IPAs
Pork has a uniquely strong, meaty taste that often involves a lot of oils being added into every bite. This is especially true for meals involving sausages, tenderloins, and of course, some smoky BBQ. Pork fat's intense flavor, though, tends to wash out a lot of beer's profiles.
So the solution is to choose a beer that has an equally strong, ideally one that has a hoppy and bitter flavor profile that can balance out pork's sweet, fatty, and beefy tastes.
Grilled Vegetables + Irish Stouts
Grilled vegetables like onions, peppers, and mushrooms tend to have an earthy and savory flavor profile. Sometimes, though, they can be a bit too sweet or a bit too rich for most beers.
The solution to this would be pairing grilled vegetables with a dark, roasty beer with a slight hint of malty sweetness. Irish dry stouts are perfect for this, as are most amber lagers. Brown porters also tend to fare well, particularly if you want to bring out the char flavors in your grilled goodness.
Foie Gras + American Black Ale
Buttery foods and fatty foods have that unique tendency of giving off such strong flavors that it overpowers many beers. And, having a beer that's a bit too strong in bitterness can end up killing the flavor profiles of the fatty foods you're indulging in.
American black ales, German Schwarzbiers, as well as a good pint of Guinness can all be paired well with the right fatty foods. Buttery steaks, breads, and pot pies do well with Guinness. Meanwhile, a good pate will work well with Schwarzbier.
Duck + IPAs
Much like with sausage, duck has a gamey taste with a powerful punch of fatty protein. Duck also happens to have just as rich and complex a flavor profile as sausage, and that means that light beers will just not work out with this meat.
No, a decadent dish like oven roasted duck, Peking duck, or Duck a l'Orange needs to have a dark, rich beer that packs a powerful punch. American IPAs are excellent for this. If you don't believe it, crack open a can of Dale's Pale Ale next time duck is on the menu.
Another equally good option is an American brown ale. Brooklyn Brewery makes a couple of amazing ales that fit this bill - or very close to it.
Chicken + Blonde Ales
The biggest issue that chicken has is that it's a very subtle flavor that can be easily overpowered with the wrong beer. So, with dishes that center around the flavor of chicken, the lighter the beer, the better off you'll be. Good options include blonde ales, wheat beers, and of course Belgian Saisons.
Smart picks for chicken dishes include Blue Moon, Duvel, and PBR.
Sushi + Rice Beer
The Japanese have been downing beer with their sushi for centuries, and their most popular pairings always feature light, crisp rice beers that bring out the subtle tastes of the sushi and refresh the palate. Light wheat beers also are perfect for this meal for the exact same reason.
If you want to enjoy a good sushi meal with beer, the best option is to choose a Japanese beer like Sapporo. Or, if you want a light beer from the US, Miller Lite tends to fare well with most sushi meals.
Tacos + Light Lagers
Spicy foods like tacos, pad Thai, and Buffalo wings all tend to have flavors that are meant to give you a kick to the palate. But, at the same time, you can't always match them with a very dark, bitter beer because there's only so much flavor your mouth can handle.
This is why experts tend to work with light lagers like Modelo, Corona Light, or Spaten-Fransikaner. The lightness of the beer tends to allay some of the spiciness, but still gives your tastebuds the ability to enjoy the full spectrum of flavors in these kinds of dishes.
Oddly enough, this combo works with almost every spicy dish out there. Go figure, right?