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Grainfather Blog - Week 123: Pairing Food and Beer

By Grainfather - All Grain Brewing 04/08/2017 11:38 Comments

Pairing food and Beer

I have to admit that I had always been a little sceptical about pairing alcohol with food. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a drink with my meals, I was just never completely convinced that certain alcohol could compliment a particular food. Usually I’m used to wine being the drink of choice with meals and to be honest (I’m sure I’ll put right after saying this) I’m just not sure how much variety there is in wine. I mean, I get that wines can be dry or sweet and fruity or citrusy or acidic but at the end of the day they all taste like wine. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I was convinced to go along to a food and beer pairing event and suddenly I’m a big convert to the whole concept of pairing beer and food.

I’m being reductive about the variety in wine for comic effect but hopefully most of us brewers reading this week’s blog will agree that wine just can’t compete with beer in terms of variety. Firstly, even the most basic beer starts with more ingredients then the most basic wine and each of those ingredients offers a huge library of flavours which can combine in any number of ways. Think of how many IPA’s there are in the world and then think how many of them taste exactly the same. That’s not even taking into account how versatile beer is in handling adjuncts such as fruit, oak aging and spices or taking into account the range of flavours made available with mixed fermentations, utilising bacteria and wild yeasts.

For every flavour in food beer can offer a counterpoint, a match or a contrasting flavour – sometimes even all three in the same beer and that’s why beer is such a versatile drink for pairing. How do you go about pairing beer with food though? What are the rules and how do you know if a pairing is successful or not?

The rules are really quite simple. When pairing beer and food you should look to;

  1. Match strength
  2. Find common elements
  3. Consider the beer and food qualities such as sweetness, bitterness, carbonation, spiciness and richness


1. Match Strength

Strength obviously refers to the alcohol content of the beer but it also includes food with intense flavour. If you have a dish with very delicate flavours such as white fish or lightness can be completely overpowered by something boozy and hoppy like an Imperial IPA or a Belgian Tripel. Instead you should consider crisp and light beers such as pilsners or wheat beers. Similarly, these light crisp beers will struggle to cut through or compliment strong flavours in food so make sure the intensity of flavours is considered.

2. Find Common Elements

One of the easiest ways to successfully create a pairing is to find matching elements between the beer and the food – think the chocolate notes in a porter with a chocolate desert or the caramel flavours of a dark Belgian beer with caramelised onions on steak. Whilst it is common to pair beers with an existing menu, if you are coming at it from the other way (creating a dish to pair with a beer) then keeping common elements in mind is extremely useful as you will be able to intersperse the common flavours throughout the dish – and remember the pairing can have more than one common flavour!

3. Consider the beer and food qualities such as sweetness, bitterness, carbonation, spiciness and richness

As well as individual flavours that you can pick out and match, there are qualities that both the beer and food will have that can be used to pair them. For example, rich, fatty foods can be cut through by high carbonation or sourness. Consider also that hoppy beers will emphasise heat in spicy food, whereas maltier beers will act as a counterpoint to the heat. Considering qualities goes hand-in-hand with matching strengths – if you have a very mild curry you don’t necessarily need a huge, malty English Barleywine to act as a counterpoint. Match the intensity of your qualities.

So how do you know if a pairing is successful?

Well, many people will try and convince you that there is an exact science to this, as they do with homebrewing, but similar to homebrewing a significant part of food pairing is art and not science. If the beer and the food work well together for you then I would call that a success. What I’m hoping to demonstrate in this blog though is that there are elements you can consider when pairing beer and food and there are certain elements of each that complement each other. Once you have the basic idea of matching and complementing strength, flavours and qualities you can begin to experiment with contrast and thinking about elements that don’t precisely ‘match’ but which can drive a different element (for example, I mentioned hoppy beers enhancing heat. That’s not a match between the elements but it could produce interesting results).

Beer and food pairing is a fun thing to try and to experiment with and if you know a little bit about what you are doing it really can enhance your enjoyment of both – if you don’t believe me, book yourself in for a tasting course!

If you have tried beer and food pairing and it went well or, if you have a favourite pairing let us know in the comments below or by emailing

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