Which Beer To Drink With Dinner
Much like wine, beer can be a wonderful complement to your food. But which brew should you use?
Wine and food have a long history as the power couple of the culinary arts, while beer has been reserved for sporting events and drunken stupors. Okay, a slight exaggeration. But nowadays, with the craze for so many different beers, and a new breed of chefs knowledgable about beer, the fourth most consumed beverage in the world has now joined the party at the dinner table. Yes, much like wine, beer comes in a variety of styles that play better with particular foods.
European Pilsner and American Light Lager: Pilsners and light lagers are the all-terrain vehicles of the beer world. Their light body, mild flavor, and dry finish make them the perfect companion for just about anything from fried snacks like French fries and jalapeno poppers to grilled favorites such as chicken, pork, and hamburgers. For those who enjoy spicy foods, the light lagers truly shine, for hops tend to slightly ease the heat, while the flavor of the beer is mild enough not to compromise the defining character of your favorite dish.
Dark Beer: Though the term dark is a broad one encompassing numerous styles including schwarzbier, German dunkel, brown ale, stout, and bock, most dark beer styles share a common roasted character. This flavor, derived from roasted barley, makes them perfect companions for red meats such as a succulent steak, a juicy char-grilled burger, or for Wisconsinites, a grilled cheese or a mouth watering bratwurst. Given their complex flavor profiles which can be bitter and include hints of toffee, chocolate, or coffee, dark beers are not recommended with lighter foods such as salads or seafood, but most especially not chicken.
Stout: Technically a dark beer, stout is a style in a league of its own due to the many variations of this style. As such, the type of food depends on the style of stout. For example, a coffee, chocolate, or milk stout is favorable to something sweet or salty such as chocolate cake or french fries, while a dry Irish stout pairs wonderfully with a hearty stew, braised beef, or fresh oysters. The oyster stout, despite its name, matches best with a sweet or fruity dessert, for its salty character pairs well with sweet and acidic food.
Fruit and Lambics: The oddballs of the beer world, fruit and sour beers are thought to pair with very little. On the contrary, they pair quite well with foods of the opposite flavor profile. Vanilla ice cream is creamy and sweet, while a fruit or lambic tends to be sharp and sour. If we’ve learned anything from classic combinations such as peaches and cream or sour cherry gelato, it’s that sweet and sour pair nicely.
Smoked Beer: As the name implies, smoked beer has a smoky character derived from the malt being dried over an open flame. As such, beers of this variety work well with grilled meats, especially sausage, burgers, salmon, and chicken done on a grill. They can be paired with smoked foods such as jerky and barbecue but if they’re too strong the flavors might clash and render the beer to brown water.
Wheat Beer: Because they’re light in body and often come with mild, crisp flavor, wheat beers are often best enjoyed with a salad, fruit, seafood or white meat, but they also work well with sweet, spicy, or sour dishes. It’s not uncommon to pair a wheat beer with hot wings, orange chicken, or, say, grilled pork chops seasoned with lemon pepper. But a fine wheat beer also works well with shrimp scampi, bratwurst, roasted chicken, and white fish. It’s versatile.
India Pale Ale: The India Pale Ale is a unique beer in terms of pairing, for it has one of the most complex characters due to the heavy use of bittering and floral hops. Because it’s a notably bitter style, an IPA is best paired with something bold in flavor such as a steak topped with blue cheese or extra spicy chicken wings and especially foods that are salty. (The floral aspects of some IPA’s, particularly those made with Citra hops, may allow for pairings similar to a Wheat beer.)
Finally, these recommended pairings are not the only way to enjoy beer with food. Some people may enjoy a dunkelweizen with fried chicken or a rauchbier with chocolate cake. If you’re interested in experimenting, the best way to approach the task is try and match opposing characteristics and pair from there. Of course, everyone’s tastes are different, so you never know what might sync up just right on your palate. Cheers!