Not everyone will agree with me of course, but I’ve always thought that these so-called wine connoisseurs who ramble on about the perfect food and wine pairings are just snobs! They talk about seeing, swirling, smelling, and sipping wine, and a whole host of other terms people outside their circles just don’t get.
Admittedly, there are some beer aficionados who act and talk in a similar fashion, and you know who you are! There is a difference between a beer lover who understands the complexities of how a good craft beer is made, the proper glass use, temperatures, etc., but doesn’t lord his or her knowledge over another, and the beer lover who’s just trying to act like the beer equivalent of a wine connoisseur.
Some may disagree with me, but to me beer is the common man’s drink, the blue-collar refreshment, and something to be enjoyed by the unwashed masses, yearning to be free of snobbery! Yes, I realize that snobbery can go both ways, but in my experience, beer aficionados don’t begrudge a snooty guy or gal their right to enjoy beer in a good bar, regardless of his station in life, but some of these wine people will certainly look down the long length of their nose if you walk into a fine wine bar and ask “what’s on tap?”
Now I’ll step down off my soapbox and share with you the reason for this article – to share with you beer lovers my little personal guide to how best to pair beer with food. No, it’s not specifically snobbery to talk about pairing food and beer, no more than it would be snobbery to talk about pairing the proper headgear with the jersey you’re wearing to a sporting event. I don’t worry much about pairings of any kind generally, but I will say that food and beer certainly go hand-in-hand, and if you wish to enjoy that great craft beer alongside that great burger, it helps to know the best beer to buy to enhance flavors. Thus my guide….
Now understand that with any craft, there are multiple categories, and the craft of beer is no different. To keep things simple though, we can generally break beer down into two categories – Ales and Lagers.
Ales are generally fruitier tasting refreshments made with top-fermenting ale yeasts, produced at generally warmer temperatures. Ales include offerings such as
- American Wheat Ales
- Blonde Ales
- Pale and India Pale Ales
- Amber and Brown Ales
- Porters and Stouts
Lagers are generally made with bottom-fermenting yeasts at cooler temperatures that produce a drier or more crisp beer, with less fruity characteristics. Lagers generally are called, believe it or not, “Lagers”, and are generally…
- Light Lagers
- American Lagers
- Amber Lagers
Let’s just look at the general ales and lagers I’ve listed, and talk about the best foods to pair with each type of beer. Again, we’ll keep this simple to get you started and thinking about pairings.
I’m not much of a fan of American Wheat Ales, particularly when drinking them without any accompanying food offering. However, if you’re having seafood such as seared scallops, broiled shrimp, baked filet of fish, etc., then an American Wheat might be your best choice. The tart and slightly citrus flavor of an American Wheat compliments the lighter flavor of these types of seafoods, neither overpowering the other.
I can’t say I’m much of a fan of Blonde Ales either, but a Blonde Ale does pair well with spicy, Asian dishes, and can even pair well with spicy dishes made from chilis or mango salsas. I don’t normally find many Asian restaurants that serve much variety of craft beers, but when I can make this pairing, it’s a good one. If you’re at home cooking such foods, pick up nice Blonde sixer and enjoy!
Pale and India Pale Ales
IPA’s are some of my favorite craft beers, and I thoroughly enjoy most quality IPA’s without food. When I’m trying to pair, I don’t give it much thought just because I enjoy a good IPA so much. To get the best flavor both from the food and the IPA though, your best bets are smoky and aromatic foods, strong cheeses, and highly spiced dishes such as curry dishes. One of the great things about IPA’s as well, is how well they do pair with desert dishes. One of my favorites is my local Good People Brewing Company‘s IPA paired with a good chocolate cake for desert!
Amber and Brown Ales
See above description of pairings with PAs, because while they may not go quite as well with the foods mentioned above, ambers and browns are also very complimentary.
Stouts and Porters
Smoked meats, as well as carmelized and salty meats and their accompanying sauces go particular well with the equally strong flavors of stouts and porters, and like a good IPA, a porter also pairs very well with chocolate deserts, as well as deserts with soft cheeses.
Light Lagers pair well with light foods, such as foods spiced with ginger, garlic, lemongrass, things like spring rolls or salads with cilantro, etc.
American Lagers pair better with heavier foods, particularly spicier offerings such as Mexican or Latin American quisines.
Like Italian? Then you might want to try an Amber with your next trip to such a restaurant. Amber Lagers pair very well with foods that are spiced with basil, oregano, etc.
Pilsners are a favorite of many, because they tend to pair well with a wider variety of foods, including oilier seafood dishes, well-marbled meats, and even sweeter offerings. It is a common choice if you are uncertain what beer you should pair. You can rarely go wrong pairing most foods with a good Pilsner.
Bocks are sweet Lagers, with an almost toasty, caramel quality, and they tend to pair well with foods of a more intense flavor, such as cajun, jerk offerings, and slow-roasted or seared meats.
That’s about it folks! With this short-and-sweet, and simple guide, I hope I’ve provided some of you with a starting place for wisdom in deciding what the best beer might be to pair with your next meal. Experiment, try out different things, and see what you like. One thing about beer lovers – we are generally not snobby, and there are no hard and fast rules that anyone need follow to enjoy the bevy of wonderful beer and foods available to us. We live in a great country!