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Beer and Food Pairing 101

Turn a duet into a perfect “brew-et” with these tips on how to select the right craft beer to accompany any dish.

Steve Koenig Oct 8, 2015 - 7 min read

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Making great pairings isn’t just about serving an incredible craft beer with a great dish. When harmony exists between well-executed cuisine and a perfectly paired beer, the effect can be unforgettable. But pairing your dishes with the right great craft beer doesn’t have to be hard or intimidating. In fact, it’s really quite easy and very, very fun. Of course, there are personal preferences in both food and beer, so make sure you take the beer preferences of your guests into account as you develop your menu. You wouldn’t serve a steak to someone who hates red meat, so don’t serve an imperial stout to someone who you know doesn’t like big, dark ales.

While there are many different factors that go into making a great pairing, there are arguably only two primary approaches that cooks must consider with each dish they are trying to pair. Ask yourself this: Do I want a beer that is going to contrast with the flavors in this dish, or complement them? Both approaches can create incredible results.


Think opposites attract. This is the riskier approach to pairing, but when it works, it can really pay off. Pair a sour beer with a sweet dish, or a malty stout with briny seafood or a pungent blue cheese. Contrasting pairings can work best when the dish you are pairing has a singular dominant flavor or texture characteristic. The contrasting beer can bring balance to the dish by toning down the dominant characteristic of the food, but leaving intact the flavor that made you choose the dish in the first place. For example, a dish with a heavy alfredo cream sauce can be tempered with the bitterness and cutting power of a highly carbonated fresh pale ale. Pairing a crisp, clean IPA with an oily fish can add a new dimension to both the fish and the beer (not to mention the fat of the fish heightens your tastebuds’ perception of the beer’s bitterness). Pairing that same IPA with a complex dish such as Mole Poblano can keep the over-the-top richness of the mole from becoming overpowering.


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