Beer and Food Pairing 101


Last year, I attended a dessert and beer pairing.  The whole event intrigued me.  Now, I’m not new to the world of craft beer.  I’ve traveled the United States, tasting the local brews from all over.  As a Cicerone (certified beer expert)-in-training, I’ve enjoyed nearly every style of beer around.  But pairing beer with food was all new to me.

Wine pairings have been a thing for years.  We pair wine with everything – from a fancy meal to a decadent dessert to Girl Scout cookies.  Little did I know you can do the same with beer.  There’s just a few basics you need to keep in mind.

Keep the contrast of flavors in mind.

Much like with wine, you want to make sure the style and flavor of the beer doesn’t overpower the food you are pairing it with.  If your food has strong flavors, your beer should be strong enough to stand up to the spice, but not overtake it when they come together.  A good example of this would be serving a tangy, hoppy IPA with the rich flavors of BBQ ribs or brisket.  The IPA will cut through the deep spice of the BBQ, enhancing the flavor.

Flavors should compliment each other.

While contrast is important, you want the overall feel of the drink and meal to be similar.  Try to match your beer to your food.  If you are serving something light, such as a salad or wrap, choose a lighter beer like a blonde ale or pale lager beer.  These beers are light-bodied and mild and will match the often lighter flavors of a summer salad.

Beer can be used to break up a meal.

If your meal is full of strong flavors, a beer can be used to off-set that intensity.  For example, if you are serving a spicy Mexican meal, you may want to serve a light lager.  The crispness in this beer can help wash down the spicy heat.  Another example would be serving a pale ale or IPA with fried foods.  The salt and fatty nature of these foods play well with the bitterness that you often find in these beers.

Don’t overdue big flavors!

We know food can contain some big, bold, and interesting flavors.  Well, beer can, too.  Craft breweries are always experimenting with different kinds of fruit additions, hops, and yeast strains to produce what can sometimes be intense flavors. Some of these drink well on their own, but can really go south when paired with the wrong food.  Just remember that bigger isn’t always better.  Know your beer and know your food before you pair them together.

Pairing wines and spirits with food has always been popular.  But don’t be afraid to switch out that wine for a craft beer selection.  I promise there is a beer out there that will pair just as well with your meal. Just keep the above basics in mind and you’ll be the hit of your next dinner party or BBQ.

And in case you need a place to start, here are a few of my favorites match ups.  Cheers to beer pairing!

  • Pilsner & Margherita Pizza
  • Blonde Ale & Cobb Salad
  • Hefeweizen & Shrimp Linguine
  • Sour or Tart Ale & Charcuterie
  • IPA & Cheeseburger w/Fries
  • Pale Ale & Pad Thai
  • Amber & Adult Grilled Cheese
  • Red Ale & Pulled Pork
  • Brown Ale & Steak
  • Stout & BBQ Ribs