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How to: Pair Beer & Food

Brew School

We love good food almost as much as we love good beer. And we especially love good beer paired with good food.

When pairing beer with food, there are a few important things to keep in mind. The first, and most important, is the intensity of both the beer and the food. As with any beverage pairing, you want to make sure that neither the beer nor the food overpowers the other. For instance, you wouldn’t want to pair an intense and bitter Double IPA with something delicate and subtle, like raw fish.

After taking into account the balance of intensity between the beer and food, the next step is to decide what you want your pairing to achieve. There are essentially three basic categories in terms of pairing: Complement, Contrast, and Cut, otherwise known as the 3 C’s.

    Complement:

    Let's talk about complement. When you are thinking about beer and food pairings that complement one another, you’re looking for similar aromas and flavors in both the beer and the food. If the dish has a certain spice to it such as coriander, then look for a beer with a similar spice note, like a Belgian Witbier, which is actually brewed with coriander. Eating a cheese that has a pleasant funky aroma? Pair it with a similarly funky-smelling sour beer, such as a Gueuze.

    One of our favorite pairings is a nice robust porter paired with a grilled barbecue ribs. The deep, chocolaty roasted character of the malts perfectly complements the caramelized and charred outer edges of the ribs. Go for a nice American robust porter for a medium body that can stand up to the texture of the ribeye. We like Founder’s Porter from Grand Rapids, Mich. Or brew your own and pair the ribs with our Chocolate Maple Porter.

    If you want to go to extremes in regards to complement, pair a classic German Rauchbier with the ribs. You'll still have the same caramelized and roasted flavors but now with the added complement of smoke from the beechwood smoked malts in the Rauchbier. We like Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, or brew your own with our BBQ Beer recipe from our first Beer Making Book.

    Contrast:

    When contrasting a beer with a particular food, you’re looking for opposing flavors and aromas. These are flavors that are, in essence, opposites. Take the flavors of sweet and sour -- on their own, sweet and sour can both be overwhelming. Sour can pucker and create imbalance in certain tastes, whereas sweet, oftentimes overbearing and cloying, covers up more subtle flavors. But together, they balance each other out and create a new unique taste experience. As the old saying goes, opposites attract. And when they do, they add up to a complete and delicious pairing.

    There is really no better classic pairing than a Dry Irish Stout paired with fresh, raw oysters. The roasted, chocolate bitterness of the stout contrasts perfectly with the briny, sweetness of the oysters. The pairing is so classic that breweries today brew their stouts with actual oysters or oyster shells.

    While the Dry Irish Stout is the classic go-to for oysters, we enjoy an unexpected beer with ours -- a Belgian style Witbier. The Witbier is a great contrast to the oysters, while also being a complement. The subtle citrus and spice from the addition of orange peel and coriander contrasts the briny, savory, almost metallic flavors of fresh oysters. Plus, the beer's mild sweetness and fruitiness contrasts with the sour of your typical oyster condiments, such as lemon juice or mignonette. While there's plenty of contrast in the pairing, the fruity flavors and smooth, silk-like texture of the beer mimics the creamy, melon flavors in Pacific oysters, adding a complimentary element to the pairing. Some of our favorites include Allagash White or Telegraph White Ale or brew your own with Grapefruit Honey Ale.

    Cut:

    Cutting is similar to contrast, but taken to the extreme. We're talking about big bold flavors or sensations when we think about cutting; think about biting into a rich, fatty piece of BBQ, or scorching your tongue on a spicy pepper. Much like contrast, you want to pair those intense, extreme foods with a beer that will take it down a notch. So, try cutting the richness of a fatty cheese with the bright sourness of a gueuze or fruited lambic. One of the most classic pairings is one you might not expect to work. We like cutting the spicy heat and flavors of an Indian curry with the intense hop bitterness and malt richness of an American IPA. This is a good example of meeting intensity with an equal (or greater) intensity to allow the strong flavors to mingle and compete. The intense citrus and pine flavors from the hops meet the intense spice flavors of the curry, while the malt helps cut through the heat. We like Stone Brewing Co.'s Enjoy By IPA, or brew your own with our Warrior Double IPA.

    Not everyone is a fan of intensely hoppy beers. So what can you do to beat the heat? You can calm spice by going from one end of the spectrum to the other. The heat from spice is calmed by sweetness, so rather than relying on intense flavors to calm the burn, we can use malt sweetness to do the same. A nice German Doppelbock is one of our favorite beers to pair with a spicy curry. The roasted, sweet prune and plum flavors of the beer help cut through the intensity of the curry, soothing the heat in the process. Try the Spaten Optimator or Tröegs Brewing Company's Troegenator with your curry -- you'll be sweetly surprised.


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