Beer is arguably the greatest of drinks, while pizza may be the greatest of foods. Like Abbott and Costello or Poehler and Fey, the two just go together. It turns out that enjoying a cold sip of beer with your piping-hot pie is more than just good instincts — the pairing is backed by experts and research.
Cicerones (that is, beer-pairing experts) have long given their official blessing to the marriage of pizza and beer. They often talk about the three Cs of food-and-drink pairing: First, the dish and the beer should complement each other in their similarities. Second, they should also contrast in a pleasing way. Third, the beer should cleanse your palate, leaving it ready for the next bite.
The union of pizza and beer demonstrates these principles beautifully. The toasted barley flavours of beer find a complementary counterpart in the baked and bubbled pizza crust. At the same time, the beer’s malty sweetness provides balance against the acidity of tomato sauce, while the herbal tang of its hops will contrast nicely with the fattiness of melted cheese. Finally, the carbonation of beer helps wash away each carbohydrate-heavy mouthful.
Taking these ideas a step further, cicerones say the toppings should help guide your choice of beer style. As a rule, the more heavily topped the pizza, the more heavily hopped the beer. For example, a pale or amber lager works with a margherita (tomato, mozzarella and basil), but many people find a hoppier beer — like an India pale ale (IPA) — is better able to stand up to the complex flavours of a more fully loaded pie.
Researchers have discovered that most people instinctively agree. According to a study published in the journal PASOS, when given the opportunity to try a lager, an ale or a stout with different kinds of pizza, participants chose to pair heavy ales and stouts with spicy pizzas, while they tended to prefer pale lagers with milder pies. (Side note: This is the best research job of all time!)
To test the theory, we tried an online tool that uses algorithms and the chemical properties of various ingredients to create recipes and suggest drink pairings. It reinforced some things we already believed — lager really does work perfectly with a margherita, and an IPA goes well with spicy, meaty pies.
Then we got fancy. We told the program to start with a gorgonzola cheese pie and then add one topping and a drink pairing. It suggested buckwheat honey for the pizza and a dark lager for washing it down. It’s worth a try — for science.