By: Marty Nachel

The When, Where and How of Proper Pairing


Without further ado, here are some beer and food pairings, using international cuisine as examples:

Spicy Food: the average person’s first inclination upon eating a bowl of five-alarm chili is to reach for something cold and wet in an effort to wash away the lingering heat. This may work sufficiently, but if cold and wet is all that is needed, why not just drink ice water? Try instead to enjoy both the hot spiciness and the beer. Serve a medium bodied lager such as a bock beer, a Marzenbier, or a Vienna style beer. All of these are substantially malty and have a creamy mouthfeel. Rather than just rinsing the mouth, these beers will coat the tongue and palate and the malty sweetness will help to extinguish the flames enjoyably.

Mediterranean (Greek, Italian, Spanish): the focus on these three countries’ cuisine is pretty much defined by regular use of olives, olive oil, garlic, herbs, citrus and tangy cheeses. Their pasta, seafood and rich meats are easily paired- a well-balanced Munich pale lager works well with the pasta and a hoppy pale ale goes well with pork and lamb. Pilsner is famous for pairing with fresh fish and a traditional porter stands up well to oysters, shellfish, and salt-cured fish.

Indian: East Indian cuisine, though occasionally spicy, is prepared with subtle finesse. A complex variety of herbs and spices are used in the preparation of Indian dishes but none more obvious than curry. Light bodied premium lagers are recommended so as not to overpower the food’s subtleties.

Asian: Asian cuisine is fairly simple. With the exception of Korean dishes, the ubiquitous fish sauce, from the mild Vietnamese variety to the rich Cambodian version, is a common thread. Beers with mild hop bitterness and some residual sweetness like a Dortmunder/Export pair nicely with these offerings. Well-balanced lager beers are excellent for pairing with the delicate fresh (and often uncooked) fish and other delicacies from the sea that are consumed throughout the region. Hoppier German style Pils is undoubtedly the best for complementing Chinese food, whether Cantonese, Mandarin or Szechuan in style

French: Easily defined by pungent cheeses, fine meats and rich sauces, French haute cuisine is no place for timid beers. Biere de garde, a beer style of true French origin, is a natural with aged and herbed cheeses. The rich, earthy Belgian trappist beers will complement most red meats nicely. For rich sauces, a mildly malty but sharply refreshing Saison is just what the gourmand ordered.

Continental cuisine: The countries that comprise this category are from the “beer belt” of the north and their national cuisines don’t just go well with beer, they were built around it! Slavic, Czech and German foods have a natural affinity for beer. Strong, aged cheeses, pork, chicken, coarse breads, and the best of the wursts don’t need any coaxing to find a liquid partner. The venerable altbier with cheese, a malty/hoppy Maibock with barbecued white meats, Munich dunkel (dark) with pumpernickel and rye, and a malty Oktoberfest or Marzenbier with most sausages. One additional treat for the true epicure: try a Bamberger rauchbier (smoked beer) with smoked ham or sausage and sharp cheddar cheese…pure delight!

Dessert: Beer with dessert is a combination capable of ambrosial heights. Rather than trying to match sweet with sweet, try contrasting tastes instead; sometimes this approach brings better results. A double chocolate cake would find a nice contrast in a dry Irish style stout or possibly a robust porter. A traditional Belgian witbier would spice up any fruit-laced arrangement. Strawberry shortcake would mate well with a pale bock and a box of chocolates would disappear quickly with an uncorked bottle of framboise (raspberry lambic beer) in the vicinity.

And then again, sometimes a snifter of barrel-aged Scotch Ale is a dessert unto itself.