Pairing Food & Beer
                                            by Antonia DeLamonte

When thinking about how to match foods and beer, there are a few things to keep in mind. In
beer-producing countries, the cuisine is often well-matched with local beer styles. Fish and
chips demand a nice cask bitter while moules frites and Belgian pale ales appear to have been
invented for each other. If you’re not in a beer-producing country, look for beers that will either
harmonize with the flavors of the cuisine or contrast it. What you want to avoid are tastes that
don’t relate to each other at all—tart and roasty, for example. Also, make sure to match
intensities so a strong beer won’t overpower a delicate dish—and vise versa. And finally, for
very rich and heavy dishes, consider a beer that is crisp and sharp—something that will cut
through the food’s density.

But if your local supermarket or specialty food shop is short on selection, then look for a saison
or a pilsner: the two most versatile and food-friendly beers.  Both are crisp, delicate, and
balanced. Saison—a Belgian style—has a yeast-driven palate that includes fruity esters and
spicy phenols but finishes very dry, perfect for many dishes. Good pilsners have a wonderful
balance of lightly sweet malts, lightly spicy hops, and a crisp finish. They are rarely worse than
adequate and are often perfect.

Some foods have traditionally been thought too hard to pair with beer.  Not so.  Here are some
tips for just those dishes.

ITALIAN RED SAUCES
Some cuisines are occupied territory for other beverages—like the way red wines dominate
Italian food, particularly dishes made with red sauces. It makes sense, because the sweet and
acidic quality of the two fruits—tomato and grape—are made for each other, But beer can play
this game too. Look to Belgium, where the beers are yeast-forward with cuisine-friendly brews
that have acidity and fruit notes. A great choice is one of the ‘Burgundies of Belgium,’ the oud
bruins and Flanders red ales made west of Brussels. Classic examples are Liefmans and
Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne. They have the same sweet-tart balance of a deep Italian
red (and I’ve even found oenophiles who enjoy them almost as much).

JAPANESE
Japan’s cuisine is varied but anchored by a pervasive sense of umami. And because Japanese
dishes are so often accented by this savory bass note, they call for a particular kind of
balancing beer. In Japanese aesthetics, there’s the concept of kire, or cutting, and it describes
the way a good beer pairing will address that umami note. Lagers that are simple and dry, crisp
and, sharp—these kinds of flavors ‘cut’ the umami but do not muddy the palate.  Native
Japanese lagers like Sapporo and Asahi are brewed this way. (It’s where dry beer came from.)  
Pilsners and Helles lagers like North Coast Scrimshaw and Tröegs Sunshine Pils are good
substitutes. When pairing with seared meats, consider German schwarzbier, a thin, crisp black
lager that has a hint of sweetness and roast. Köstritzer and Live Oak are good choices.

CAJUN AND CREOLE
The mighty twin cuisines of Louisiana are so long on flavor that a beer must be content with
playing second fiddle. Cajun and creole dishes are decadent and complex, with spicy and
smoky flavors, which blend together in rich harmony. Choose beers that will join the harmony.
Surprisingly, brown ales are excellent in bringing out the deeper flavors without adding a heavy
note, and they are nice with meats, too. It’s no surprise that Lousiana’s Abita Turbodog is
great. In that same vein, Oktoberfest–märzen beers are great dance partners, pulling out the
sweeter notes in meats, quenching any fires that might have sprung up on your tongue. Sam
Adams and Ayinger make great examples.

THAI
Nearly every Thai restaurant I’ve visited offers the local suds, Singha beer. And while that pale
lager is a great partner for hot, humid evenings in the garden, it doesn’t do nearly as well with
Thai food. Thai cuisine balances a range of flavors and textures: spicy (or course), but also
sweet, salty, and sour. It harnesses the pungent flavor of fish oil as a base element, but
garnishes the palate with fresh, spritzy flavors from the garden. I’ve found success with beers
that feature those herbal, spicy, spritzy flavors. Two styles are especially suited to the task.
Witbier, a Belgian style that is made with coriander and citrus peel, harmonizes nicely with Thai
spices like lemongrass, ginger, galangal, coriander, and cilantro. Try Allagash White or
Caracole Troublette. Another possibility is gose, a lightly tart German wheat ale made with
coriander and salt. The salt, spice, and acidity match the flavors in many Thai dishes.

CUBAN
Like Cajun and Creole food, Cuban food is built by layers. It’s constructed of simple ingredients
and just a few spices, but slow cooking allows all the flavors to co-mingle, creating lush, rib-
sticking meals  These dishes call for simple beers, but ones that can match the richness of
Cuban fare. Traditional Latin American lagers are both too bland and too light to do justice to a
nice ropa vieja, vaca frita, or Cuban sandwich. A great all-purpose beer is a malty amber ale
like New Belgium Fat Tire or Anderson Valley Boont Amber. Ambers have a rounder, malty
body with a similar balance of sweetness and spice (the hops). Amber ales accent citrusy
notes, and nicely contrast acidic ones. Best of all, they really accentuate the sweetness of slow-
cooked meats (particularly pork). Smoky, roasty flavors are regular features in Cuban cooking,
and a light-bodied porter like Deschutes Black Butte or German rauchbier (a smoked lager)
can be wonderful accompaniment.

INDIAN
India has over two dozen major languages and wasn’t united until the 1940s. It is—in many
ways—a land of many cultures and cuisines. The holy city of Varanasi favors nearly spice-free
vegetarian dishes, while the more heavily Muslim city of Hyderabad is famous for its intensely-
spiced meat dishes. But there are elements of unity. Varanasi aside, spice is usual, and dishes
are often rich with butter or oil. Try an English bitter which has a delicate balance of malt and
hops, and will gently cut through richer dishes. Since the nerves that detect carbonation and
spicy heat are the same, the relatively flat bitter style is a good flame-douser, too. Rogue
Younger’s Special Bitter is a good choice, but the classic is Fuller’s London Pride. On the other
hand, some fiery dishes call for an IPA. Higher alcohol levels will battle heat, and the floral,
citrusy flavors of the hops meld nicely with the spice. Ballast Point Sculpin and Surly Furious
are good places to start.

DESSERT
Beer and dessert—believe it or not—can be a sublime match. You know that coffee, with its
roasty and slightly acidic palate, is ideal for contrasting decadent chocolate desserts or crème
brûlée. Why not try a similarly roasty Baltic porter like Żywiec, which is equal in this capacity?
An intensely roasty beer, it is lagered, so it’s clean and crisp, despite its alcoholic strength. If
you want to double the decadence, a strong Belgian abbey ale can offer similar levels of
richness and sweetness. Rochefort 10, a Trappist-brewed example, is superb. If the dessert is
fruity, you have beery choices, too. In the area near Brussels they make an acidic beer called
lambic and often flavor it with fruit (these are called kriek and framboise). A ‘wild ale,’ it is made
with yeasts that gobble up all the beer’s sugars, leaving intensely tart, aromatic beers that
perfectly accent fresh fruit dishes
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