While enjoying beer with food is one of life’s simplest pleasures, successfully pairing beer with food can be quite challenging. When pairing, we hope to dazzle our palates by creating memorable, transformative matches. However, as in most cases where enjoyment is the ultimate goal, personal preference plays a large role in whether or not a taster enjoys a given pairing. Two different people experiencing the same beer-food interaction may arrive at different conclusions regarding whether or not those interactions are positive or negative. Just as no single beer that pleases every drinker, there is no perfect pairing that all palates will enjoy.
We all know that beer and food are great friends. Craft beer pairing has grown in popularity around the world and many people also enjoy cooking with beer. Here we plan to prove that beer and food pairings can go beyond burgers and bratwursts! Here, we offer a few specially commissioned recipe suggestions highlighting craft beer’s versatility so why not dive into the world of craft beer and food discovery?
With beer, characteristics like alcohol content, bitterness, carbonation level, acidity, sweetness, and body – whether derived from malt, hops, yeast, barrels, or other ingredients – come together to create an overall impression of the impact of the beer.
With food, look to three different sources: base ingredients, preparation or cooking techniques, and spices or sauces used. Different base ingredients vary in intensity. In the realm of proteins, a fish taco is less intense than a risotto, which in turn is less intense than a short rib.
Cooking techniques also impart different levels of intensity, with higher heat levels and longer cooking times often leading to greater levels of intensity (e.g., poaching vs. roasting vs. grilling.) Lastly, spice rubs, sauces, or other accoutrements to a dish can also greatly impact the overall pairing.
When evaluating food, note that no one of these three categories is more important than the others—you must take each category into account and sum them into an overall sense of pairing. For example, steak is a more intense ingredient than chicken, but if you compare a beef tartare to a fried chicken, the chicken would be the more intense of the two due to how it is prepared.
Ultimately beer and food flavor interactions can be split into two general categories – interactions that occur on the palate and interactions that occur between aromas. Aroma is the first thing to hit the senses and should not be passed over as it can spark memories in the brain that trigger reactions to a pairing.
Taste and mouthfeel represent a much more limited universe compared to aroma. Many of these interact in specific ways: bitterness counteracts fat or sweetness, but also magnifies chile heat, for example. Carbonation and alcohol, while lacking much in the way of flavor intensity themselves, may help counter rich flavors by either dissolving them or physically scrubbing the palate, as carbonation does. A pairing may have one that dominates, or several that work together in layers. At the end of a pairing think of a few things -
Remember to enjoy the pairing, don’t work too hard at it and let your palate wander!