Pairing Beer with Food

Although vintage wines and aged spirits can boast of a long companionship with haute cuisine, beer — until recently in some places — is often relegated to the backyard barbecue. But that’s wrong. Beer is only for thirst quenching as much as computers are only for number crunching and sports are only for boys. Get with it, folks; beer is for dining, too!

Although it may have taken restaurateurs, gourmands, and culinary artistes forever to catch on to the concept of beer and food pairings, now that they have, it’s a hot ticket. And why not — beer is considered the world’s most popular beverage, with craft beer increasing in popularity every day. After far too many years, the outlook for beer drinkers is rosé — er, rosy. Thanks to the enthusiasm of brewers, restaurateurs, and consumers of flavorful craft-brewed beer, beer has reclaimed its rightful place on our dinner tables.

Good craft-brewed beer can be much more interesting than wine — it’s cool and refreshing and, depending on the style, can be much richer, more complex, and more flavorful than wine. Plus, if you have an average person’s budget and capacity, you’ll find that tasting several different beers during a meal is preferable to tasting several different wines.

Guessing at general guidelines

Within the sometimes intimidating world of wine and food, even the neophytes can lean on the old red meat–red wine axiom in a pinch. But beer drinkers have no such axiomatic, general guideline to fall back on, because none exists. And few people have a good enough grasp on the various beer styles and flavor profiles to easily make choices.

Actually, you’ll find it hard to go wrong when matching beer and food. What’s fun is trying to do better than not going wrong.

Every kind of food conceivably has an appropriate beer to accompany it. The beauty of beer is in its versatility. You can usually find a beer style that’s a natural match for a given food. Beer even works better than wine with some dishes, such as especially spicy or sour ones. And slightly acidic beers are great foils for rich foods.

Substituting beer for wine

The lager beer category is the white wine equivalent. When compared with ales, lagers have the following characteristics:

  • Generally lighter in body and color

  • Narrower flavor profile and a high degree of drinkability (that is, tend to appeal to a wider audience)

The ale category is the red wine equivalent. When compared with lagers, ales have these qualities:

  • Typically darker

  • Rounder, more robust and expressive

  • Wider flavor profile and thus a lower drinkability (that is, tend to appeal to those with a more experienced beer palate)

Just to keep you on your toes, keep in mind that these guidelines are really general — dark and full-bodied lagers exist just as surely as do light and mild ales.

Next time you’re about to go grape out of habit, consider a brew instead. This table offers a few good ideas.

Beer Substitutions for Wine
Wine Suggested Beer Substitute
Dry white wine Blonde Ale, Kölsch, or German Pils
Dry red wine Fruit Lambic or Flanders Red Beer
Champagne Light and spritzy Witbier, Lambic, or Berliner Weisse
Brandy Spirituous Barleywine or Old Ale
Port wine Intensely flavored Russian Imperial Stout

Keep in mind that these suggested substitutions aren’t trading taste for taste but style for style. In other words, don’t expect the Imperial Stout to taste like a port wine; it’s simply serving the same enjoyable purpose as a rich and spirited after-dinner libation.

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