When choosing a fermented beverage to enjoy with cuisine most people think of wine — which isn’t surprising since it’s been served at upscale dinner tables for centuries. Beer, the working man’s drink, has traditionally been associated with delicious, blue collar fare like wings, burgers, brats, and pizza. Only ten years ago, the thought of ordering a tasty brew to wash down a cut of prime beef from a high-end steakhouse would elicit snickers from the staff and a snooty recommendation from the pompous server.
Things have changed. Craft beer is in its golden age right now and is available in a colossal variety of styles and a myriad of flavors. These high-quality suds pair just as well or I dare say even better with food than vino. Chefs at expensive restaurants now even have beer dinners in addition to their exclusive wine dinners. Of course, variety is the spice of life and there’s certainly nothing wrong with having both at the table. (also see wine and food pairing)
The flavors of the beer should complement, not overpower the food, and vice versa. Ideally the brew and grub bring out the flavors of each other, enhancing the meal and pleasing the taste buds. There’s certainly nothing wrong with ordering a favorite beer with a favorite dish though, regardless of style.
Here’s a list of popular beer styles and the foods I choose to enjoy them with:
Pale Ale: A light and versatile brew with some modest bitterness and hop flavors.
Goes best with: Burgers, bratwurst, sandwiches, pork, aged gouda and manchego cheeses, pizza, peanuts, and most anything really.
Belgian Wit: Soft, light-bodied, and delicate Belgian ale with orange and coriander spice notes.
Goes best with: Chicken, fish, shrimp, pork, salmon, fruit, salads, gruyere cheese, and dark chocolate.
Hefeweizen/wheat ales: A refreshing, light-bodied beer with tart and fruity yeast notes.
Goes best with: Fruit, salads, seafood, mascarpone and chevre cheeses, shrimp, and light fish.
India Pale Ale: This medium bodied ale is hop-forward, bitter, and usually full of citrus and/or floral flavor.
Goes best with: Spicy foods like Mexican, Thai, Indian cuisine, and buffalo wings. Also goes great with blue cheese and gorgonzola.
Red/Amber Ales: Malt-forward ales with some balancing hop character and toasted malt flavors. Versatile and food friendly.
Goes best with: Barbecue-ribs, steak, burgers, beef brisket, pulled pork, stews, pizza, Italian dishes, aged gouda and pepper jack cheeses, nuts, and sandwiches.
Brown Ales: Smooth, malt-forward ales with some chocolate and caramel notes.
Goes best with: Stews, steaks, roasts, smoked sausage, bratwurst, sandwiches, toffee, and farmer cheeses.
Porters: Medium-bodied, moderately bitter dark ales with caramel and burnt malt flavors.
Goes best with: Grilled meats, steak, hamburgers, smoked sausage, bratwurst, smoked almonds, ice cream, and aged cheddar.
Stouts: Dark, moderately bitter, full bodied ales with roasted malt, coffee, and burnt malt flavors.
Goes best with: Steaks, beef brisket, stews, ribs, smoked meats, ice cream, rich sweet desserts, dark chocolate, and aged cheddar.