Perfect Combos for Beer and Food Pairings
Today, restaurants are paying as much attention to their beer list as the wine list, selecting brews that pair well with the other menu items. Home cooks, or home brewers for that matter, can do the same. Here are some quick picks for perfect combinations.
I’m a beer man. Give me a choice between a glass of beer or a glass of wine at dinner and I’ll reach for the beer every time.
Fortunately, this preference doesn’t make me an unsophisticated lout. Quite the contrary. As the craft brewing industry has exploded, more and more beer types reach a larger and larger audience. While decades ago Americans were mainly exposed to only pale lagers, now most of us can at least say we’ve heard words like “stout,” “India pale ale” and “pilsner.”
This variety of styles is great for our palates but it can also lead to confusion, especially when thinking about pairing beer with a specific dish. I may have sophisticated taste when it comes to beer (I’m drawn to the hoppy bitterness of IPAs) but my method for matching beers and foods is as unsophisticated as it gets: I open my fridge and reach for whatever is closest.
Witbier: Often called “white beer” because of the hazy color from floating yeast and wheat proteins. This ale is traditionally flavored with spices and citrus peel.
Pairs with: Summer salads. To experiment with complimentary flavors, try making a salad with avocados, oranges and pine nuts on a bed of arugula or this Crispy Prosciutto and Orange Salad.
India Pale Ale: IPAs get their name from their popularity with traders in the East India Company back in the 18th and 19th centuries. This type of beer has more hops for a notable strong and bitter (yet not unpleasant) taste.
Pairs with: Pizza. A strong IPA is perfect for cutting through the grease and fat of a delicious cheesy pizza pie.
Hefeweizen: The most well-known style of wheat beer has very little bitterness. It is citrusy, refreshing and slightly sweet, and not as dry as a pilsner.
Pairs with: Roast chicken and sushi. At one of my favorite restaurants the chef served a lemon zest-rubbed chicken. I always ordered a hefeweizen as a complimentary beer.
Pale ale: This beer got its name because it is brewed with pale malt. Pale ales are often amber in color and not necessarily a “mild” beer, with a robust and full flavor.
Pairs with: A hamburger is a classic and perfect pairing.
American Lager: Pale lagers have a similar flavor profile to pilsners, while not having quite as dry a finish. Darker lagers have more caramel notes.
Pairs with: Seafood; darker lager is a great compliment to salmon.
Amber ale: Amber ales have great balance. They are smooth, slightly sweet and warm, while having a bit of bite from the hops.
Pairs with: Fish and chips. One of the best meals I ever had was an amber ale and a pile of fried fish and french fries on Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco. I had to order another beer.
Brown ale: Traditionally an English beer, a brown ale has nutty and caramel notes with a smooth finish.
Pairs with: Think England in the winter (or summer, for that matter). We’re talking warmer, heavier dishes, like chicken pot pie.
Porter: This beer got its name because, yes, it was popular with porters in 18th century England. Flavors of coffee, chocolate and smoke are most common.
Pairs with: Beef stew and chili. Adding a bottle of porter while cooking your pot of chili is a great way to enhance the finished dish because the flavors (coffee, chocolate, smoke) work so well together.
Stout: Irish stouts are traditionally smoother than porters, with a lower alcohol content. Imperial stouts might have a similar color, but they are much stronger with more alcohol.
Pairs with: Barbeque. A plate of ribs in front of you and a stout in your hand is a great place to be. A stout float is also a fantastic quick dessert. Simply add a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream to your favorite stout.