More Than Peanuts: The Secret to Pairing Beer and Food

Secrets of Pairing Beer and Food Revealed

Wine gets a lot of attention as a great meal companion. In fact, you probably can find a lot of information about pairing food and wine: how to combine textures, how to make sure the flavors complement each other, what to pick and ignore.

Beer doesn’t get the same love – even though it should.

Here are some tips on creating that perfect combination of beer and food, regardless of your budget or what you’re serving.

Keep Your Palate in Check

Here’s the first rule of thumb when it comes to pairing beer and food: the carbonation and acid in beer can help cleanse or refresh the palate, according to Douglass Miller, associate professor of hospitality and service management at The Culinary Institute of America. What does that means? Basically, it means that the carbonation can act as scrubbing bubbles. “For example, the lemon and acid notes in a hefeweizen can cut through the richness of lobster,” Miller says.

On the other hand, beer can also complement food, which is why a dry stout can go with a chocolate dessert, Miller explains.

Why the Type of Beer Matters

According to Miller, it’s all about the heaviness of the beer. For example, winter beers tend to be heavier in style and have more body. “That is why stews and roasted meats will go with bolder style beers,” Miller says. “Try porters, stouts, or abbey dubbels to go with your winter dishes.”

On the other hand, lighter beers and beer that is lower in alcohol can be served at a brunch where you typically find lighter-style dishes.  “Also, these types of beer are perfect for a cocktail reception or you can pair them with a salad,” Miller explains.

Picking the Right Food

Here’s one simple rule of thumb Miller believes in: “if it grows together, it goes together.”  That means looking for a beer from a particular country and matching it with the cuisine from that country. “For example fish and chips with a pale ale, orKölsch-style beer from Germany with bratwurst,” Miller says.

If you are not sure what to pair while at a restaurant, Miller recommends asking the server for a small taste.  “Most restaurants that have beer on tap will happily give you a sample taste and you can see if you like the pairing,” says Miller.

Buying beer at a retail shop? Miller recommends purchasing individual bottles of beer.  “Purchase a couple of single, 12-ounce bottles and try them with what you are eating,” Miller says. “Part of knowing what pairs well with food is self-discovery.”

A Word of Caution

Although Miller says beer can go with almost anything, he warns beer that is higher in alcohol does not go well with spicy foods. “Generally speaking, the heavier the beer, the lighter the dish you’ll want to match with it,” Miller says. “Strong cheeses such as Stilton or Gorgonzola go well with double IPAs or barley wines.”

Popular styles of beer and what they could pair with, according to Miller:

India Pale Ale: Curry, Thai food, Mexican and spicy dishes, spiced cake

Porter: Roasted or smoked meat, dark rich chocolate

Hefeweizen: Shellfish, sushi, grilled chicken

Pilsner: Shellfish, light foods, salads

Pale Ale: Very versatile.  Hamburger, roasted poultry, salmon, pork

Brown Ale: Hamburger, roasted pork, grilled salmon, sausage

Witbier: Mussels, shellfish, poached fish, salads, lighter dishes


Diana Bocco is a writer and author who writes for Yahoo!, the Discovery Channel website, Marie Claire, Poplar Mechanics, and more. You can find more about her work on her website

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