Craft beer and food are made for each other.
Why? Because there are about 100 styles of beer to choose from, offering lots of aromas, flavours and textures to play around with. The best part is that it isn’t as hard as you think!
There are a few basic rules and tips that will make beer and food pairings easy. So let’s dive in.
If you want to learn more about beer styles, check out our guide on The History & Everything you Need to Know about Craft Beer.
How we Taste Beer and Food
It’s worth considering how we experience taste. There are five established flavours: bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami. There is also an unofficial (‘emerging’) flavour to consider: fat.
When we think about beer, these flavours come from sweetness of the malted barley and bitterness from hops; but some beer styles can have more unusual flavours, such as saltiness in a gose like Magic Rock Brewing’s Salty Kiss, sourness (lambics) and even umami in aged beers that can have a ‘meaty’ quality like Magic Rock Brewing’s Bearded Lady imperial stout.
Some people can detect lipids (fat) in foods. Fat should never be present in beer, but can be useful when thinking about how to match beer with rich foods.
Pairing Craft Beer and Food: The Rules
Thinking about how we taste is the first step towards great drink and food pairings, but where now?
1. Think about impact
Match strength with strength, which includes considering the alcoholic strength (ABV) and the assertiveness or sweetness of the style. Think about light, delicate beers for lighter foods. Magic Rock Brewing’s Freeride low-alcohol pale ale is an example of a low ABV that’s flavoursome, but won’t overwhelm the palate.
2. Find harmonies
When pairing, the easiest place to start is thinking about what they have in common. Is there one ingredient in common? Or common aromas and flavours? This is why a roasty stout like Magic Rock Brewing’s Dark Arts can be an excellent choice with dark chocolate.
3. Contrast and complement
Always think about contrasting and complementing elements and flavours with the aim to balance them. For instance, Fourpure Citrus Session IPA goes well with citrus desserts!
4. Think about carbonation
Carbonation is something that gives beer the edge over wine when it comes to pairing. A highly carbonated beer can cleanse your palate to cut through spicy foods. Think about pairing Fourpure Lager with something with a bit of heat, like a curry.
5. Take inspiration from the classics
There’s a reason that some pairings are classics—it’s because they work. Look at what cuisines are traditionally enjoyed in the regions where a beer style is made. Think about the classic US combination of a good burger with an IPA. There’s nothing better! Try one with a New Belgium Brewing Voodoo Ranger.
6. Keep practising
Everyone’s palate is different, so keep experimenting. Did you know that a stout can work well with blue cheese? There are some magical pairings yet to be discovered!
Hoppy beers can accentuate spiciness, so avoid pairing spicy foods with hoppy IPAS!
Roasted malts can balance sweetness, so think about darker beers to pair with desserts.
The sweetness of malty beers can balance spiciness and acidity.
Beer with Cheese
This is another area that beer can bring something unique to the table: carbonation makes beer a fantastic mate to rich cheeses in particular.
Fruity beers like Fourpure’s Citrus Session IPA can be paired with bright goat cheeses and soft-ripened cheese like brie. And don’t forget smoked porter with smoked cheeses and farmhouse styles like saisons with funkier cheeses.
When it comes to classic cheddars, try these with a stout like Magic Rock Brewing’s Dark Arts and you’ll be surprised at how well this flavour combination works.
The Final Touches
When you’ve settled on your pairings and want to present your findings to the world, remember a few basic presentation rules:
Serve your combinations from least to most intense. The most delicate beers should be served at the beginning of the tasting!
Serve your beer at the right temperatures: warm pilsners won’t be as refreshing and effective for cleansing the palate, for example.
Keep it to a manageable amount of tasting portions so you don’t overwhelm your diners’ palates (and remember to encourage everyone to drink responsibly!).