Thanks to the vast variety of craft beers available, the art of pairing food with beer has reached new heights. Just like pairing wine with food, it is not difficult, and when done right, it can completely elevate a meal.
Whether the beer and food complement each other or contrast with one another, the combination can bring out different aspects of both the drink and the dish. In this article, we will explore the principles behind food and beer pairing, the most popular flavor profiles, and some suggested food and beer combinations.
Principles of Food and Beer Pairing
The goal of pairing beer and food is to create a combination that enhances the flavors of both. While it is perfectly fine to experiment with different combinations to find what works best for you, it can become a time-consuming and expensive exercise.
The following basic principles guide the choices you make when deciding which beer to pair with different foods. These principles are reflected in the suggestions provided later in this article.
The easiest way to pair beer and food is by bringing together flavors that complement each other. For example, you can pair light beers with dishes that have light or delicate flavors, such as fish or salad. On the other hand, pairing heavy, rich beers like stouts with bold, flavorful food creates a complementary combination.
Another approach is to pair flavors that contrast with each other. When doing so, it is important to note that ‘contrast’ does not mean ‘overpower.’ Examples of successful contrasts include pairing chocolatey stouts with briny oysters or matching sweet wheat beer with spicy Thai food.
Cleansing the Palate
In addition to complementing or contrasting flavors, you can also use beer or food as a palate cleanser. For instance, oily foods like nuts or fries can cut through the bitterness of an IPA, while a cold light beer can cleanse your palate after eating spicy Korean fried chicken.
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The Flavors of Beer
As you can see, pairing beer and food ultimately comes down to flavors. The more familiar you become with different taste profiles, the easier it becomes to match beverages with dishes. It can be helpful to acquaint yourself with the flavor profiles typically associated with different types of beers.
Bitterness is a common flavor profile in many beers, although the level varies from one beer to another. If you are unable to taste a beer to determine its bitterness, you can check the label for its International Bitterness Units (IBU) number. The higher the IBU, the more bitter the beer.
The term “dark” not only refers to the color of the beer but also to the flavor achieved by roasting the malt grain until it darkens. The longer roasting process results in heavier and richer flavors. The nutty notes typically found in beer become stronger and darker, resembling coffee or chocolate.
Light beers are usually pale in color and have a softer, crisper flavor. They are low in bitterness and hops and often have a lower alcohol content.
Some people mistakenly equate bitterness with hoppiness. However, this is not entirely accurate. While hops can contribute bitterness when added early in the brewing process, adding them later can create fruity or floral notes.
The sweet, nutty, caramel-like flavor in beer comes from roasted barley grain. In most cases, the barley is roasted before being added to the brew.