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An Introduction to Beer and Food Pairings

Food and beer go together wonderfully, and even if you are new to pairing your pints with your meals, don’t worry! In her blog series “Beer and Food”, beer writer Hollie Stephens will help you to start discovering the fantastic ways that beer can complement food.

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For years, wine has been the primary alcoholic beverage associated with food pairings, particularly when dining out at a restaurant, when a sommelier – an expert in wine – might visit the table to suggest a pairing for your meal. But increasingly, chefs and restaurateurs are beginning to appreciate the merits of increasing the selection of craft beers on their menus, and championing beers as the perfect drink pairing for some of their dishes.


So why does beer pair so well with food? One aspect to remember is that all beer is slightly acidic (and some beers, such as sour ales, are more acidic than others.) The acidity helps to refresh the palate after each sip, heightening and balancing flavors in the food. Highly acidic beverages are particularly effective in bringing out the intensity of umami flavors.


Generally, more subtle beers should be selected to pair with foods which have delicate flavors, whereas assertive beers should be enjoyed alongside robust and rich foods. As an example, a barleywine will go nicely with a salty, sharp blue cheese. Conversely, the piney, resinous taste of a double-dry-hopped IPA will drown out the subtlety of white fish in most cases.


Food and beer pairings can focus on either complement or contrast. Beers complement foods when they have common flavors and aromas. For example, the nuttiness of a brown ale could pair with an earthy mushroom risotto, or a bright, crisp pale ale that is bursting with notes of citrus from the hops might accompany a spiced orange salad. Beers contrast with food when the pairing creates balance, offering a unique taste experience which in the best cases can be greater than the sum of its parts. The classic pairing of stout with oysters is an example of contrast; a dry stout offers both bitterness and a hint of chocolate, which contrasts nicely with the salty, briny taste of oysters.


If you’re a fan of spicy food, take care not to select the most highly hopped, highest ABV beer in your fridge for a pairing with your meal. The alpha acids from the hops could work to amplify the capsaicin (an active component of chili peppers responsible for causing a burning sensation), plus alcohol can amplify the heat from the chili.


If you’re looking for ideas of which beer to pair with your favorite foods, Advanced Cicerone (beer sommelier) and creator of Pints and Panels Em Sauter has created some handy illustrations that can help with getting ideas for pairing global beers with global dishes. Check out her suggestions for pairing food with German pilsners, Irish red ales, and Belgian dubbels. And remember, when it comes to beer and food pairing, it all comes down to personal taste, and there are no hard and fast rules. “My advice is - experiment!” says Em. “If you think it’ll be good- then try it. It’s a great way to see how beer and food work together.”

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