Beer & Food Pairing: Evaluating Beer

In the last post we looked at matching intensity of beer and food to create perfect pairings. The rule-of-thumb is to increase intensity as the meal progresses, from salad to dessert. Matching intensity pairings highlight and amplify flavors in each other, but don’t overpower each other. Whether the flavors complement or contrast each other, they should share the same intensity level.

I believe beer is a more versatile beverage than wine for food pairing. Beer brings an unlimited combination of characteristics to the table. This is true for all food, and cheese pairing is a great example, where beer shows a versatility that wine can’t match (but that’s a post for later).

So, how do you judge a beer’s intensity? Start by examining the characteristics of the beer to pair it with a dish with similar characteristic levels.

  • Examine the malt characteristic. Is the beer bready, carmelly, roasted or chocolatey? The beer’s color gives us a lot of hint here.
  • Next consider the hop character. We’re not just talking about bitterness level, but flavors and aromas of pine, herbs, floral, citrus or tropical fruits.
  • Taste the beer to get a sense of its sweetness and mouthfeel. Generally the sweeter a beer is, the fuller the mouthfeel.
  • Take the alcohol content into account. Pair high ABV beers with big foods and low ABV beer with lighter dishes.
  • Does the beer have noticeable esters? Lagers should not, but most ales do to an extent. Esters are a fermentation byproduct that give beer fruity aromas and flavors. The best example is the hint of banana in a traditional German Hefeweizen.
  • Tart, sour and funky beers are gaining popularity in America, but these have been classics in Belgium for centuries. These are great for contrasting food flavors, like a nice sour Belgian Gueuze with mussels.
  • Factor in the beer’s special flavor characteristics common in today’s beer. A wide variety of barrel-aged beers and beers flavors with coffee, chocolate, fruits and even vegetables are on the market. These all make for unique pairings.
  • Then there is beer’s pièce de résistance… carbonation. Not only does the effervescence enhance aromas and flavors, it helps to cleanse the palate and readies it for the next delicious morsel.

Next time we’ll look at food characteristics to consider when pairing with beer. Until then, eat and drink well. Cheers!