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Beer and Food Pairings

Beer has always been a popular form of alcoholic refreshment, but these days, beer drinking has become an art. Indeed, the popularity of microbrews and availability of many, many more kinds of beer have prompted the origin of terms like “beer cuisine”, which refers not only to the inclusion of beer in certain dishes but also to the pairing of beers with certain foods.

Beer experts as well as chefs concede that there is no exact science to pairing beer with particular foods and recipes. As with wine and food pairings, the idea is to choose a beer that complements the food and does not overwhelm it (and vice versa). Another option is to choose a type of beer that is in contrast to the food you’re serving with it. For example, a heavy, butter-rich recipe should be paired with a light beer.

When planning your own party that includes beer and food pairings, most chefs suggest you start with the beer, not the food. Consider the beers that you like the best. Next, take those beers and, using small sips, taste each one (even if you think you know them well) and indicate any characteristics that come to mind during the taste test. (i.e. heavy, light, hoppy, fruity, bitter, dry) Then, you can choose the food to go with them.

When selecting beers, you’ll also need to remember to vary the types. If you give your guests a few heavy beers right after one another at the beginning of the meal, chances are they’ll be too full to finish the rest of the meal and/or the remainder of the beers. Beers with lower alcohol levels are also most appropriate for the beginning on the meal. So, plan accordingly and start with something light and save the imperial stouts for dessert. And remember the rule about contrasting. It’s okay to sometimes pair heavy food with a heavy beer, but don’t make that a steadfast rule of thumb.

Here are some of the most common pairings used in restaurants around the country that offer their patrons special meals paired with their favorite beers.

o Light ales and lagers, golden ales, amber ales – You’ll often find these beers paired with spicy foods, like Mexican offerings or other hot foods, because they are the best thirst quenchers. These work well with barbecue also, including ribs, chicken, and pork.

o Brown ales – This type of ale is paired often with beef dishes, particularly those that contain mushrooms. They’re also perfect for casual American food like hamburgers and standard “pub” favorites like sausage and mashed potatoes. Restaurants that serve game meat – like venison, buffalo, or elk – usually suggest brown ales as a good complement to those dishes.

o Porter or dry stout – As with brown ales, a porter or dry stout can stand up to a hearty beef dish, especially those with thick brown gravy like beef stew. Any dishes with a strong cheese, like the bleu variety, can also complement a dry stout.

o Fruit beers – Any beer that features a fruity flavor is best served with light food, including green salads or any food that’s prepared with fruit, like pineapple chicken or duck l’orange. They can also be paired with fruity desserts.

o Bitter ale and German pilsners – These very hoppy beers can be quite overwhelming, so the foods they’re paired with need to be able to stand up to the challenge. Most chefs recommend pairing them with anything that includes vinegar as a main ingredient or with broiled or fried seafood. They also enhance the spiciness of very spicy food, but for some people, that pairing is too overwhelming.

o Dark lagers and bock beers – Experts proclaim these as some of the most versatile of beers, suitable for a variety of pairings, especially sauce-based meat dishes like stews, goulashes, and other similar foods. And if you’re looking for something other than Miller to serve with your pretzels during the big game, these are the chosen varieties.

o Cream, sweet, or imperial stouts – Just about every chef agrees that these offer the prime complement to chocolate and chocolate desserts, especially dark chocolate or chocolate-and-fruit dessert combinations.