We don’t usually spend much time thinking about perfect food and beer pairings when on the road. We have done a few benefit dinners pairing beer and food, though, and the experience definitely informs how we consume both beer and food during our travels. You can find endless articles online these days about beer-food pairings, so we’re going to share the real highlights with you.
Although we don’t usually go in much for hop-forward beers, they serve a terrific role in beer-food pairings. The hop flavor tends to cut particularly rich foods- anything with a lot of oil. Cheese, fried food, Chinese food. It can also serve to counterbalance spicy hot foods, but don’t expect it to quench the heat like milk!
This includes kolsch, light lagers, English Mild, Irish Red, marzen, blondes, and other styles which don’t have a very strong flavor. Obviously, a lighter flavor food is best paired with them, otherwise the beer flavor vanishes entirely. Light sweets with subtle flavors (e.g. fruit ice cream), salads, pasta, or generally plain fare are best with these beers.
These can be surprisingly challenging to pair with, as the flavors can be all over the place. We have had unexpectedly good luck pairing cheese and Scottish styles. Breakfast type foods are a good go-to, as are desserts.
I love high gravity beers, but you do need to be mindful with your food pairings, as the alcohol flavor, sweetness, and other flavors can drown the food. I prefer these with rich foods like cream-based pasta, creamy or rich gravy potatoes, and desserts.
These are literally the one-size-fits-all of the beer-food pairing world. If you have a food and you are unsure with what to pair it, go for a Belgian. I have almost never gone wrong doing a Belgian with any food.
Put On a Beer-Food Pairing Event
You certainly can think about food and beer pairings when you are eating out as usual, but an even better option is to throw an event! This can be as small as a simple dinner party with friends or an expansive 40-person charity event like we used to host. You can start with either the food or the beer- we would usually start with the food.
Usually you want at least three courses, and more is preferable, to give people more opportunities to compare and contrast the pairings. We would do a dry run at least once, to make sure the pairings we thought would work actually worked and to make sure the serving pace worked out. If you are hosting a dinner party, you could cook each course just for yourself and try out a few different beers to see which align best.
Sometimes pairings are designed to complement the food, sometimes they are designed to contrast the food. A contrast we did was a Jamaican coconut rundown soup and a rosemary IPA, which made for some incredible flavors.
Enjoying beer with your food is a significant part of the experience, and we recommend you be deliberate and thoughtful when possible. As analytical as we are, though, even we don’t make every dinner a beer-food pairing event. The key, as always, is to have fun with it! What pairings have you encountered and loved?