One of my favorite things about beer is how well it can be paired with food. Of course there are certain delicious mainstays that people think of when it comes to food and beer combinations, such as pizza or burgers, but there is a whole diverse world of pairing options out there.
As you know, food and wine pairing has been around for ages. I’ve attended exceptional wine dinners at a few of the local northern Michigan vineyards that brought my palate great joy. The question may be asked then, can beer really compete with wine and food pairing? The surprising answer is yes. Many experts assert that beer pairs even better with food than wine.
Garrett Oliver, beer writer and Brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, is one of those folks. In his book The Brewmaster’s Table, he states that, “Spices distort wine flavors, turning white wines hot and red wines bitter.” He adds that, “wine doesn’t refresh the palate the way beer does” and “wine has no caramelized or roasted flavors to match those in our favorite dishes.”
I also would like to point out the benefit of the diversity in beer styles, as well as the affordability of high-quality beer compared to wine. All of these reasons are what inspired me to pursue more knowledge in the beer and food pairing world.
When diving into the complexities of pairing beer with food, there are a few basic guidelines to follow. A primary rule is to find a harmonious balance. You don’t want the beer’s flavor to overpower the food dish or vice versa — choose pairings with similar strengths. Also, look at flavors that are alike, but don’t be afraid to play with tastes that are different from each other — you may find a contrasting combination that enhances one or two major elements in the pairing.
I want to share a few of my favorite food and beer pairings I’ve encountered over the years:
- English-Style Porter with Grilled Vegetable Skewers: The roast and soft caramel notes of the Porter compliment the charred sweetness found in the grilled vegetables, resulting in a true palate pleaser.
- Belgian Tripel with Mashed Potatoes: Whether they are creamy or chunky, mashed potatoes have a way of weighing down the palate. The higher alcohol percent of the Tripel cuts through fats and starches, while the high carbonation sweeps the palate clean. This allows every new bite to be full of the buttery, garlicky, or gravy-doused wonder.
- India Pale Ales with Orange Gingerbread Cookies: The hop flavor works really well to cut through the ginger spice, which in turn mellows out the bitterness. Then, the orange zest of the cookie enhances the bright citrus hop present in many IPAs, creating a perfect marriage of flavors.
- American Stouts with Michigan Pot Hole Ice Cream: This ice cream has a chocolate base and is full of fudge. American Stouts can have sharp, bitter, roasty notes from the dark malt used, and the rich, creamy sweetness of this fudge-filled dairy treat balances it out perfectly.
Do you have a favorite beer and food pairing? I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to email me at the email address below.
Amy Martin is a member of the North American Guild of Beer Writers and is on the Governing Committee of the American Homebrewers Association. Reach Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.