How to pair beer with any food

Overhead view of a hand holding a saucy chicken wing over a platter of wings and dipping sauce, with a glass of beer in the other hand.

Brewing is part science and part art — and the same goes for pairing beer with food. Here’s how to make delicious, creative matches you’ll love

We all have our go-to beers. But why not take everyday dinners and snacks to the next level by trying out some new-to-you styles that bring out the best in them?

With hundreds of options at The Beer Store, there’s a whole wide world of tastes out there. And we’re here to help you choose. Here are some simple strategies to help you confidently match specific brew types with a wide array of foods.

  • Pair similar flavours and aromas.

    One of the easiest ways to dip a toe into the world of beer and food pairing is to match like with like. Think about the characteristics in a beer’s flavour profile — such as caramel notes, smokiness or citrus aromas — and let your food echo those traits.

    Sinking your teeth into a juicy steak hot off the barbecue? You can wash it down with a stout — the deep, pleasantly bitter notes in the suds will bring out the chargrilled taste of the meat. Or grab a pilsner: Its combo of malty, bitter, spicy and hoppy notes will also ramp up the flavours of the beef and boost the spices in any barbecue sauce you slather on top.

  • Choose textures that work together.

    Pay attention to how a beer feels in your mouth when you take a sip: Is it thick and lingering on your palate, or is it bright, with a clean finish? Try matching the texture of your beer with the texture (a.k.a. heaviness) of your food so neither is overpowered.

    Crisp, lighter-tasting ales, for example, work well with lighter proteins, like chicken or salmon, and mild cheeses, such as cheddar or Monterey Jack. Potent, creamy-textured porters and imperial stouts are best matched up with rich cheeses, like Stilton, or desserts, such as sticky toffee pudding or chocolate cake slathered in frosting.

  • Match the intensity.

    Rich, boldly flavoured dishes often call for feistier beers, while lighter meals — such as white fish or salad — are best with brews that are equally pale and refreshing to let all those delicate notes shine through. Matching darker, more intense or heavily hopped beers (like IPAs) with complex, multi-layered dishes can also bring out the best in both.

    Consider a fizzy American or Belgian wheat beer with a laid-back chicken Caesar salad. Or partner a dark lager with spicy grilled sausages and tangy mustard. These pairings let both the food and the beer have their moment in the spotlight.

  • Cut oil with crispness.

    An acidic or extra-bubbly beer can help cleanse your palate if you’re eating fried or rich foods. The crisp, clean finish clears away any residual oil on your tongue and makes your mouth feel like it’s ready for the next bite. These beers are also really good with salty snacks, like chips, which soften their tasty bitterness.

    Take your lead from Belgian eaters, who have the amazing combo of mayo, fries and beer down to an art form. Try grabbing a light German lager or a Belgian blonde ale with your fries or any other food that’s taken a dip in the deep-fryer.

  • Manage your spice.

    The right beer will showcase the nuances of spicy dishes. And while some brews kick up the heat, others can mute it, so your choice will depend on what effect you’re seeking. It’s best to avoid beers that have lots of their own unique spicy notes, as they can conflict with the flavour harmony of your curry, chili or jerk shrimp.

    To boost the fieriness of a dish, beers that are less malty and not super strong — think helles lager, pilsner or saison — work well. To cool it off, however, try something big and sweet, such as a stout or a more intense IPA. (Tip: Jerk chicken and stout are a classic pairing for good reason.) Smoked peppers or smoky pepper-based bites (like jalapeño poppers) are amazing with porter, which enhances the spice and the smoke.

  • Play with bitter and sweet.

    The goal is not always to find the liquid equivalent of what’s on your plate. Sometimes complementing bitterness with sweetness can create a more interesting and complete taste experience.

    The coffee notes in porter make it an excellent contrast for sweet, chocolaty desserts. Porter also has just enough bitterness and astringency to complement roasted root vegetables and even more decadent, rich treats.

  • Find balance.

    Enhance the characteristics of your food and beer — rather than masking them — by looking for the harmonies between them. Try a sour beer with a rich meat, like lamb, to bring out the umami notes in both. Or pair wild rice, arborio rice (the type used in risotto) or polenta with an American-style amber lager. It will enhance the grains’ flavours with its toasted malt aroma and taste, and balance that sweetness with a nice hit of bitter hops.

    Above all, have fun on your matching journey. All that delicious experimentation will reward you with happy discoveries along the way.

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