Re-posted from CraftBeer.com – The site was developed by the Brewers Association and is a great Craft Beer resource.
Why Do Craft Beer and Food Work So Well Together?
By Julia Herz, Certified Cicerone®
In general, there are four main ingredients in craft beer: malted barley (or malted wheat or other cereal grains), hops, yeast and water. Malt and hop flavors tend to be the most prominent and can easily be paired with foods. Additionally, beer’s carbonation plays a role in food pairing. Let’s take a closer look…
- The sweetness of malt reduces the heat of spicy food*. Try it out. Sip a malty brown ale with a spicy Thai dish or try a Scotch Ale with some spicy Mexican food. Intensely spiced foods, which have become a popular component of today’s American diet, are complemented by craft beer’s ability to diminish heat. In comparison, wine’s higher alcohol actually accentuates the warmth from many spices which can be undesirable.
- Matly Styles to consider with fired up foods include: Brown Ale, Bocks, Porters, Red Ales, Scotch and Scottish Ales, Stouts, Vienna Lagers and more!
- Malt bonus: The flavors of malt (caramel, chocolate, graham cracker, roast, toasted, toffee) harmonize with grilled, roasted and smoked foods because malt contains many of these flavors.
Much of what we eat today has rich sauces with added fat or butter. Hop bitterness can counteract with rich sauces resulting in desirable results.
- Hops bitterness cuts through the fat in food thus lessening the dense heavy feeing in your mouth. This is pleasurable as it allows you to more fully taste the ingredients of your dish and enjoy the true flavors of both your craft beer and the food.
- Hops’ balance malt’s sweetness and is the soul of many craft beers.
- Be careful. Hops may intensify spices and heat so a good rule of thumb is to pair malt forward beers with spicy foods and hop forward beers with rich or fatty foods. However, don’t be shy. Experiment, experiment and try out some more highly hopped beers with spicy foods, such as with curry, and taste what happens.
- Beer’s carbonation (bubbles) scrubs the tongue of fat and prepares it for the next bite. This is a good thing!
How To Pair:
When you pair food and craft beer, you want to remember to pair to the ‘preparation of the dish’, instead of just pairing to the original protein.
It makes sense to say that all the flavors in any dish are determined by the preparation AND its ingredients. Before trying to create a pairing, ask yourself how the dish was cooked. Was it caramelized from grilling, steamed on a stove top or just tossed with olive oil? Is the sauce acidic tomatoes or a rich cheesy alfredo? What kind of seasoning, herbs or spices were added? All of these elements add to the overall flavor impact of the dish.
Also remember, matching like with like in both strength and ingredients, will help you find harmonies and flavor hooks that make the food and beer shine. What this means is you might not want a light American lager paired against a rich dense chocolate cheese cake (that poor lager is going to get knocked down and won’t shine like it should). On the reverse side, a salad with a light olive oil dressing paired against a Belgian Tripel is not likely to harmonize (the salad is too light against the sweeter 9% abv tripel).
Print out our craft beer and food pairing chart for a great set of examples on what types of beer styles work with different types of foods.