Wine was a four-letter word Sunday morning, which I spent at the SFChefs.Food.Wine beer pairing boot camp with Beer Chef Bruce Paton and City Beer Store owner Craig Wathen. I would have liked a few hard and fast rules, but there doesn’t seem to be a simple formula for matching food with beer.
The gist was that beer can be paired as a contrasting flavor, a complimentary flavor, or as a palate cleanser. Even the beer chef said he doesn’t actually pair his appetizers with beer, but rather puts out a lot of really great apps knowing that a lighter beer compliments just about anything. My favorite pairing of the day was Temptation from the Russian River Brewing Company, with a lemony bite that was gangbusters with ginger-scallion shrimp cocktail.
Ultimately, you need to consider all facets of the beer (sweetness, bitterness, additional flavors, alcohol content, carbonation) and of the food (flavor, richness, sweetness, acidity, heat, texture) when pairing.
Here are my beer-pairing guidelines, a combination of personal experience and tips picked up in the seminar:
- Light to Dark: over the course of a meal, beers should progress from lightest in color and flavor, to darker, heavier, higher in alcohol and more bitter.
- Match intensity: pair stronger flavored food with stronger flavored beer and subtler food with subtler beer.
- Red or White? White meats (poultry, fish, pork) match best with sweeter, maltier beers, while red meat pairs best with richer, more fruit-forward ales, and most anything off the grill rocks with a smokey porter or stout, unless it’s spicy, and then a crisp lager will cut the heat.
- Home brewery advantage: ethnic food often pairs best with its regional beers, brewed to suit the local cuisine.
- Sweet and Sour: When matching sweet or sour flavors, choose a beer slightly sweeter or sourer than the food.
- Barley wine goes well with just about any flavorful foods. Keep a few bottles on hand at all times.
- At the end: Porter, stout and barley wine pair particularly well with desserts and end of meal cheese courses.
- Large bottles, small glasses: If you are going to serve multiple courses paired with brews, diners won’t want a full 12-ounces with every course, so put out smaller glasses and pass around a bigger bottle. Like Belgians, many craft beers are available in 750 ml bottles (just over 25 ounces). It’s always good to keep a variety of larger bottles on hand. They are easier to store than six packs and make it possible to have a variety, and thus “the perfect beer” on hand when needed.
- Not too cold: remove beer from refrigerator 15-30 minutes before serving. If it’s super cold, you won’t be able to get the full effect, because beer is most flavorful at 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
My admin just informed me that Miller Light pairs nicely with everything from cookies to caviar, but if you want a second opinion, download the Brewers Association pairing chart (.pdf) by clicking below.