Company’s coming, dinner’s almost ready, but you forgot to pop out to the liquor store to grab a bottle of wine. Obviously, you have a fridge stocked full of delicious, local craft beer, so screw it! Who needs wine with dinner? Beer it is!
Guess what? Beer is a vastly superior beverage to pair with food than wine. Don’t believe me? Ask Chester Carey, Canada’s first certified Cicerone and a sommelier.
“Anywhere you can use wine, you can use beer, often to better effect,” he says. “Beer has that bread-like base flavour that works so well with so many different kinds of foods and it’s carbonation and wide variety of flavours also helps.
“It’s fairly hard to find food that won’t pair with most beer.”
While pairing beer with food is hard to get wrong, with a little practice and knowledge, you can get it so right that it elevates your meal and your whole dining experience. Sure, some foods, like pizza and most salty pub grub, can pair with just about any beer—but we’re going deeper.
It all comes down to the fundamentals of beer and food pairing, which Carey calls the Three Cs: complement, contrast and cutting.
Complementing flavours are similar flavours that work well together, like a fruity beer and fruity dish. Contrasting flavours are pairs of flavours, which while different, can enhance each other, like fat and acidity, salty and sweet or sweet and sour. As for the cutting effect, that refers to beer’s ability to lift spicy or oily flavours off of the tongue and scrub your palate clean, thanks to its carbonation and acidity.
So with that in mind, here’s the Growler’s guide to pairing beer and food.
Pairs with: bread, seafood, cheese, salty snacks
There’s a good reason why sausages and pretzels are staples of European beer halls, they are a natural pairing with a bready pilsner.
“Well-brewed pilsners actually have a lot of complexity,” says Carey. “The buttery character of the malt bill can make foods seem richer, while the hop notes will liven up the flavour.”
Try rich seafood dishes like caviar or spaghetti alle vongole, or even escargot.
Pairs with: roasted meats, cured meats, seafood, chocolate
The bitterness of a dry stout will help temper the saltiness of seafood (like oysters) and cured meats, and let the natural sweetness shine through. Meanwhile, the malt character in stouts pairs well with roasted meats, as well as chocolate.
India Pale Ale
Pairs with: spicy food, grilled meats, Asian dishes
The hop character of IPAs work well with flavours of lemongrass and ginger found in many Asian dishes, especially Thai food. A simple steak grilled on the barbecue and seasoned with cracked pepper will benefit from the acidity of the IPA, “which plays nicely with the fat of the meat,” says Carey.
West Coast Pale Ale
Pairs with: pizza, burgers, grilled meat, apple pie
When it comes to “beer-flavoured beer,” Carey says you can’t go wrong with pub classics like burgers and pizza. “Pale ales often have a bready note with some hop complexity that works well with salty, bready foods,” he says.
Pairs with: red meat, North African cuisine, chocolate- and fruit-based desserts
Darker Belgian beers, with their rich malty character, are a go-to for any kind of slow-cooked red meat, from Irish stew to bœuf bourguignon. The notes of dried fruit and spice lend this style to dishes like lamb tajine, while the caramel flavours help enhance rich desserts like Black Forest cake.
Pairs with: salad, chicken, seafood
Wheat beers tend to work well with salads due to their light and slightly sweet character. A Belgian witbier, with its subtle lactic note and citrus, is equally at home next to moules frites as it is a summer salad with bitter greens and goat cheese. A hefeweizen, meanwhile, would work well with a breaded chicken breast.
Pairs with: sandwiches, charcuterie, cheese
“A simple straight-forward beer that pairs with simple straight-forward food,” says Carey. With its light bready flavours, the mild is the perfect sandwich beer—but we’re not talking about grilled paninis with bell peppers and arugula. Meat, cheese, mustard, bread—simple. Try it with a ploughman’s lunch, a cheese platter or cold meats.
Pairs with: fruit dishes, fatty meat
Sour beers are known for their acidity, which Carey says you should use to cut through fatty cuts of meat like duck breast or pork chop. The fruity character in many sour ales lends itself to pairing with fruit-forward dishes and spicy Asian cuisine, not unlike IPAs.
• The Summer 2018 issue of the Growler is out now! You can find B.C.’s favourite craft beer guide at your local brewery, select private liquor stores, and on newsstands across the province.