By Roger Mittag
In most circles, the concept of pairing a drink with food defaults to wine. However, beer is a fantastic choice for many different reasons.
First of all, beer is basically a series of ingredients that have been cooked and therefore, the flavours and aromas in beer are quite similar, if not identical, to the flavours and aromatics in food. Secondly, the carbonation in beer and the bitterness from hops help to cleanse our palates, leaving us to get the most from our culinary experience. Finally, beer is such a wonderful social beverage that breaks down boundaries and opens conversation.
You might think that pairing beer with food can be difficult but if you follow these simple guidelines, you will find the journey of beer and food pairing to be exhilarating.
The goal of complementing is to match the flavours of the beer with the flavours of the food. Think in terms of lighter beer with lighter fare and fuller flavoured beer with robust foods. The following are other examples of complementing food with beer.
- Fish – Light Beer (the meat in this case is light and flaky and won’t be overpowered by the light beer)
- Salmon or Trout – Wheat Beers (especially German Weissbiers – are good because the delicate flavours and aromas are gentle and not too dramatic)
- Poultry – Lagers (light to amber in colour) are generally light in body and will complement the lighter flavour of the meat
- Beef – Dark Lagers and Dark Ales (the roasted flavours, coffee and chocolate characteristics match well with robust flavours in the meat)
- Pork – Amber lagers or Amber Ales (not too powerful but have just the right amount of flavour – caramel to support the flavours of the meat)
- Spicy dishes such as Thai – Belgian Wit/ German Weiss Bier (the spice notes and soft citric qualities are great complements to the spice (cilantro)
- Chocolate dessert – Stout/Porter (the chocolate flavours of the beer will definitely complement the body of the dessert)
In this case, the beer will cut through some of the richer flavours and tastes in the food in order to cleanse your palate, so that you don’t feel so full.
- Shellfish and Lobster – Need a lighter flavoured beer with some good proportion of bitterness, like a Lagered Ale or an American Pale Ale – the bitterness in these beers cuts through the richness of the meat
- Caesar Salad or Alfredo Sauces – Dark Lagers or Ales (the higher levels of bitterness in these beers will cut through the thick texture of the food)
- Sharp Cheeses (Blue, Stilton, Roquefort) – Require a Lambic style fruit beer or a Trappist style strong beer (the higher carbonation in the fruit beer and the higher alcohol and sweetness of the strong beer will cut through the sharpness of the cheeses, resulting in a softer flavour in the cheese)
- Creamy soups – Pilsners or Lagered Ales (slightly more hopping and bitterness will slice through the richness of these soups and act as a palate cleanser)
The goal of contrast is to provide an opportunity for both the beer and the food to be presented separately
- Curries – Pilsners with more pronounced bitterness (cut through the heat of the spice and showcase some of the more delicate and interesting notes). If you want to intensify the spice characteristics, then look to an American IPA. The intense hop notes help to bring out more of the burn in the spice.
- Oysters – Stouts and Porters (the briny character of the oysters are contrasted sharply to the bitter and robust characters of the stout)
- Chocolate desserts – The best contrast here is to use a beer with fruit (beers such as Belgian Lambic Kriek or Framboise). The easiest way to describe this is as if you were eating a Blackforest Cake where the chocolate and the cherries help to support one another but neither overpower the other.
- Spicy Mexican – Light beer (cold and refreshing, the beer puts out the fire, cleansing the palate and then showcases the actual flavours in the food)
A great beer and food match is apparent when you can’t tell where the food stops and where the beer starts. Each should make the other better.
Once you understand these concepts, it’s relatively easy to take the next step. At the beginning, the main match should always be the protein or the major component on the plate. However, it is equally important to recognize the importance of side dishes and also which spices and other ingredients have been used.
The next steps
Take at least one dish and pair it up on the menu with a specific beer. Not only will this help your staff to understand how beer and food go together but it puts the concepts of beer and food into the minds of your guests.
It’s also very important to venture outside using only the pairing concept theory. I would strongly suggest that you do periodic tastings with your staff. Once a week or once a month, use four or five different menu items and sample them with a variety of different beers so that everyone can visualize and experience how well beer and food can actually go together.
Have fun with this. Beer and food pairings can help to increase sales and profitability but they also create new and exciting experiences for guests and will leave them with a vibrant memory of a great culinary occasion.
About the author:
Roger Mittag is the President of Thirst For Knowledge Inc., Canada’s leading beer education company, and founder of Prud’homme Beer Certification® (www.tfkbeer.com)