For many the idea of pairing food with drink means wine. The idea of pairing beer and food might seem a little less refined but, beer goes with a lot more than pizza and hot wings. In fact beer is far more congenial a partner for many foods than is wine. The ease with which beer marries with almost any dish in any cuisine might seem to make conscious pairing a waste of time. But putting the right beer with the right dish can create a transcendent dining experience indeed.
Beer is very forgiving. It would be difficult to find a combination with very negative effects; a problem that seems to crop up too regularly with one in considering wine and food. Prohibitions like the no-fish-with-red-wine rule simply do not exist when pairing with beer. The main thing to remember is the three Cs - compliment, contrast and cleanse. Use one or two of the three Cs and your pairing will be a hit.
Compliment – Choose beer with a similar profile to that of the dish. If it is a sweet or fruity dessert then a pale beer brewed with fruit like an apricot wheat beer or a framboise lambic, a Belgian raspberry beer, should do nicely. If the dish is a grilled steak then beers with similar flavors like a rauchbier or a porter will make the perfect compliment.
Contrast – Contrasting a beer’s flavors against a dish can be equally satisfying and often more memorable. For instance serving a subtle and sweet American wheat beer with a spicy Thai or Indian dish can work to balance some of the hotter flavors of the meal.
Cleanse – This one is easiest. Most beers already work well at cleansing the palate because they are carbonated. This is why especially bubbly beers like Pilsner are popular with rich or fatty foods such and pizza and barbecue. But imagine beer’s cleansing role as similar to serving a refreshing sorbet between courses. This changes the purpose of beer from being just a beverage with which to wash down food and presents some interesting possibilities. Sour beers like Flanders Red, Berliner Weisse and many Belgium brews perform especially well in this role.
Some Specific Beer Pairing Suggestions