It can be an overwhelming place for those of you new to the art, but fear not! I am here to give you a few pointers on how to heighten your next beer-with-food experience.
If you’re reading this right now, I’m willing to bet you enjoy beer, and probably food as well. Good! But before we start pairing the two, let’s lay down a few ground rules.
Know the flavor profile
Is it spicy? Sweet? Acidic? Does it have roasty flavors? Is it bitter? Were any notable seasonings added? All of these characteristics can be exhibited by both food and beer, and they usually display more than one.
Know the intensity
Are the flavors of your food/beer light and delicate, or rich and bold? Thankfully, the range of intensity for beer and food are quite equally matched, so you won’t have any trouble finding an appropriate pairing.
Consider the flavors of the meal as a whole
I mean, if you want to go crazy and have a beer pairing for each food item that composes your meal (steak, green beans, mashed potatoes), then go for it. But I try to keep it simple. There is most likely a single beer that will pair nicely with all of the food flavors you’ll encounter on your plate.
OK…now that you’re familiar with what you need to know about the food and beer you’d like to pair – it’s time to experiment!
You will always, regardless of the flavors, want to match intensities of your beer and food. A rich Russian imperial stout will most certainly overpower a delicate dish of seared scallops with quinoa salad and asparagus. Balance is key when pairing flavors. We don’t want the beer to drown out the flavor of the food or vice-versa. We want a pairing of harmony, not catastrophe!
A porter with a roasted malt character can easily be paired with roasted meat like steak or lamb chops. The similar flavors create a bridge between the beer and food, resulting in a great match. It’s all about the common ground. Make sure the flavors are closely related, but not exactly the same.
Exact flavors result in a bored palate. Complimentary pairings are some of the easiest to discover, making them the perfect place to start.
Contrasting pairings are a bit less obvious than complimentary ones, but they can be equally as delicious. A key quality of a contrasting flavor is its ability to cut, or balance another flavor. Think about the way milk washes away and neutralizes the mouth-coating richness of a chewy chocolate brownie. I can’t imagine having a brownie without milk. That’s the idea behind an incredible contrasting pairing.
You’ll want flavors that can effectively teeter-totter back and forth as you taste them. A beer-with-food example would be the high alcohol and acidity of a Belgian strong ale cutting the fatty richness of duck confit.
Compliment and Contrast
Some pairings, and these are the best ones, have both complimentary and contrasting flavors at the same time. Think about a double IPA and carrot cake. The cake shares a bright, spiced character with the hops in the beer, while it contrasts its sweetness with the beer’s bitterness.
These are the most difficult to find, and most rewarding. If you find a great pairing, share it!
You might note that most regional combinations, like Mexican beer with Mexican food, work very well. A Tecate is mighty delicious with some barbacoa tacos, but don’t let that limit your creativity. I’m sure there are some tasty German beer/Italian pasta combinations out there!
Theses guidelines will help you craft pairings fit for the gods, but they certainly aren’t rules. Go crazy! Some of the most sensational pairings I’ve encountered have been completely by accident.
Experiment frequently, and you’ll quickly come to understand some common, and hopefully uncommon, flavor combinations. It’s incredibly rewarding when you find a gem of a pairing by accident, and even more so when you share it with friends who love it, too.
Congratulations! You now have the tools to create masterful pairings of beer and food.
But before you scurry off to your fridge to try your aunt’s pickled beets with your favorite chocolate stout, keep some final thoughts in mind.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were your pairing skills. This is an experimental art form. Feel free to research pairings, but you can read about something all day and have zero practical experience. Your own perception of flavors is the most important thing here, and you can’t get that from words on a page. Get out there and taste things with other things!
You might be wondering why I haven’t presented you with a list of pairings yet. Well…I’m not going to.
I believe the adventure of finding them yourself is much more rewarding. And if you really want to, there are hundreds of examples you can easily seek out online. I’d rather give you the tools to figure it out instead of spoon feeding you my own findings.
Most importantly, this is for fun! Enjoy your tasting experiences. If you find something gross, you haven’t struck disaster. You’ve found a great prank to play on your friends! Of course, you’ll have to share the good pairings with them if you’d like them to remain your friends, but I’ll leave that up to you. 😉