Beer 101: Basic beer and food pairing

Pairing food with beer opens up a world of possibilities. Some people argue that pairing food with beer is better than pairing food with wine since beer is able to stand up to flavors in food that can sometimes overpower many wines.

We’re all used to typical wine pairings – whites with fish and chicken, reds with red meat and desserts. Those old school pairings just don’t work with beer. There are too many types of beer to try and pigeonhole specific pairings.

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When you want to pair a meal with beer, the simplest and best method is to look for finished flavors that are similar to each other. Pair lighter dishes like a poached salmon with a lighter beer – anything too dark and heavy will overpower the food and mask more delicate flavors.

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Above: Jumbo Love Barley Wine paired with Corned Beef and Cabbage.

At the same time, lighter beers can’t stand up to the flavors in a decadent dessert. Pair that chocolate lava cake with a big, bold stout or Belgian ale.

The hardest beers to pair are hoppy ones – those super bitter ones with citrus aromas but taste like pine tree sap. These flavor explosions tend to dominate any flavors they come into contact with.

To help with this, look for other really strong flavors such as sharp Parmesan cheeses or Southern fried chicken to complement the strength of a big IPA.

One of my personal all-time favorite pairings is Southern fried chicken and waffles served with a hoppy IPA! I never would have thought to pair them together, but the first time I had it, it was heaven. The heavily breaded and seasoned chicken was strong enough to balance the IPA and the waffle added just enough sweetness to keep me going back for bite after bite.

Here are some of my other favorite pairings:

Spicy Indian food with a Scottish Style Ale: 
The sweet maltiness of the beer will sooth the spiciness in the food. You’ll be shocked at how much difference you taste after a sip of beer.

Sushi with a Cream Ale: 
This one sounds really off the wall, but light and bubbly cream ales with a dry finish are the perfect beer to pair with sushi. The carbonation cuts through any rich flavors and cleanses your palate for the next bite.

A nice, crisp kolsch is the perfect seafood accompaniment, as well.

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Crispy Garlic and Scallop Risotto with  Special K Kolsch from Bier Brewery (Photo by Sara Croft)

Burgers with American Pale Ales: 
Okay, so this isn’t so much about the mechanics of pairing food with beer, it’s just one of my all time favorites! There is something about a big juicy burger loaded with cheese and a crisp pale ale, it gets me every time. They are a match made in foodie heaven.

Tamre Mullins

Tamre Mullins, shown above, is a Cicerone Certified Beer Server from Indianapolis, Ind . She has spent the last 10 years as an advocate for the craft beer industry. Tamre  shares her knowledge through volunteering for breweries, teaching classes and writing for various craft beer publications around the country.


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