While the idea of pairing wine to food is ubiquitous, you may not consider as carefully how to pair beer with your food. Because of the many ingredients and aging techniques available to beer makers, there is a wide variety of flavor profiles in the beer world. Choosing the right beer for your dish will enhance the taste of each. When pairing beer and food, there are two primary routes to take: the complementary and contrasting. Both options may be pleasing to the palate, but there will always be an element of personal taste at play.
Porters and Stouts
With the roasted and caramelized flavors of their malt and the frequent notes of coffee and chocolate, porters and stouts pair particularly well with desserts featuring rich chocolate, intense vanilla and fruits. Because they are robust, these styles of beer also stand up to steaks and roasted meats. Serve them with barbecue to play off of the sauce and fat.
India Pale Ales
The hoppiness of India pale ale allows the beer to stand up to spicy foods, such as Mexican dishes or Buffalo wings. The spice of the hops also pairs well with rich desserts, acting as a counterbalance. Pale ales, whether as hop-forward as an IPA or a lighter version, work well with Asian food, hard cheeses such as Parmesan or Romano, burgers and fried food. Fish is another option to serve with an IPA, especially a fattier variety such as salmon.
Witbiers and Hefeweizens
Wheat beers, such as Belgium witbier and German hefeweizen, are great for serving with dishes featuring lighter ingredients. Chicken and seafood, particularly lighter fish such as haddock, are highlighted by wheat beers rather than being overwhelmed by the flavor. Vegetarian dishes, salads, sushi and citrus-flavored dishes also pair nicely with these beers. Because of the slightly stronger yeast flavor of wheat beers, pizza works great alongside them.
Serve the effervescent lager with shellfish and other light seafood, and don't hold back on the lemon juice, as the beer pairs well with the bright acid. Grilled pork, roasted meats and lighter cheeses also complement the beer. Try lagers with Latin or Asian foods. Pilsners, a type of lager, stand up to spicy foods nicely.
Fruit Beers and Lambics
Fruit beers and tangy lambics provide options for a wide variety of dishes. Try tart lambics with pickled foods and less-sour lambics with sweet pork dishes. Fruit beers and lambics pair well with salads and desserts featuring fruit, along with dishes featuring spices and herbs. Duck, when enhanced by fruit components such as a sauce, also pairs well with these beers. Some barbecue sauces play well off of the fruity and tangy lambics.