We all know that wine and food can be a match made in heaven. When the match works, it’s nirvana. However, beer drinkers are equally blessed in that regard as beer and food also play beautiful music together. For many years, beer possessed a less than stellar image: something guys drank while at the pub shooting darts or pool. Today, it is much better understood, no longer considered an unsophisticated beverage, and commonly promoted to go with food. Unlike wine, beer is actually thirst quenching. Nothing relieves a parched throat in warm weather like a frosty cold one and who can argue against a chilled brew with chicken wings or pizza? When it comes to beer/food affinity, some of the same principles of matching wine and food carry over.
Beer and food work together because they either share similar elements or they possess opposite components that counterbalance one another creating a third flavour experience. Like wine, generally match the character of the brew with the character of the food. A delicate beer with a delicate dish and a heavier, aggressive beer with a more full-flavoured dish! This beer character can come in the form of such components as hoppy bitterness, alcoholic strength, maltiness, richness or texture, roasted notes and/or sweetness. In food, fat content, spice, sweetness, cooking procedure (which translates to texture), and complexity can play a part. Similarities in these can pull them together, but certain opposites work as well.
Carbonation in a beer is great at cutting the richness of a food, and malty sweetness combats spicy heat really well. Here are some great beer and food matches.
Cheese and beer are dynamite together – some might even say more so than wine and cheese. Try chevre (goat cheese) or feta with wheat beer as the pungency of the cheese plays the brew nicely. I love pale ale with sharp cheddar, amber ale with Parmesan, brown ale with Colby, bock beer with Gruyere, Oktoberfest beer with Swiss and fruit beer with Mascarpone.
Meat also works wonders with beer. Match a malty lager or lambic brew to pork. Rich, fruity ales are fab with red meats like beef, lamb or game. For barbecue meats, stews, bacon, sausages and smoked selections, dry, smoky porters and stouts are just the things.
Poultry is no slouch with beer either. Try lager with chicken and turkey, fruit beers or lambics with duck or porter with smoked duck.
Even fish and seafood mesh grandly. Check out lager with shellfish, sushi, and lighter seafood or pilsner with trout, tuna or salmon. Stout with fresh oysters is a sublime experience.
When the heat is kicked up a notch or the spices intensify, either a brew that quenches thirst and helps put out the fire or one that reduces the heat and highlights other aspects of the dish will do. Lagers, pilsners or blonde ales hold up wonderfully to Mexican, Asian, Thai or Latin fare. Bock beer with jerk chicken is killer. Porter with chili sings and wheat beer with sweet and sour dishes rocks.
Vegetarians don’t despair – there are plenty of options for you. Give lambic beer a go with salads with fruity dressings. Pilsner clicks with asparagus and wheat beer shines with tapenades, grilled vegetables and salads.
Last, but not least, we have desserts and they too can harmonize with beer. Fruit beers and lambics go beautifully with fruity delectables like tarts, flans, pies and torts. For a real treat, try stout with chocolate and chocolate-based desserts (the beer must be sweeter than the chocolate, so it’s best with bitter-sweet chocolate). Citrus-based desserts blend admirably with wheat beer.
Beer and food do work together nicely, so if you’re a beer lover you’ve got lots to cheer about. With the endless choices of beer available in today’s market, there’s certainly a cornucopia of flavours and styles to please even the most discerning of tastes. And similar to wine, there are countless beer/food match-ups to keep you gastronomically excited. Enjoy!
Edward Finstein is a wine writer, award-winning author, TV and radio host, educator and judge
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