Wine doesn’t have the monopoly on food and drink pairings. In fact, some dishes might not necessarily find their ideal match in vino and even in instances when there is a bottle that goes quite well with the dishes ahead, perhaps our palates or the occasion call for a beer.
The principles behind successful food and beer pairings are not miles away from those of wine; for example, the local approach (a.k.a. “what grows together goes together”) of combining foods and drinks from a region is as valid for a plentiful Tuscan feast with generous pours of Chianti as it is for the wealth of traditional Bavarian bites savoured during Oktoberfest along with refreshing lagers.
Closer to home, a classic example would be Guinness and oysters. To the uninitiated this might sound odd, but the sweet maltiness of the stout provides a pleasing contrast to the briny character of the mollusc.
The more modern path will see us playing with similarities and differences between what’s on the plates and in the glasses. When we pair by affinity, we aim to find common elements; for example, a light and delicate fish accompanied by an equally mild beer that won’t overshadow its flavours. When we pair by contrast, it’s all about opposites attracting; think of a rich and smokey BBQ and a hoppy, citrusy IPA with a bitter kick and an acidity that washes your palate and leaves it fresh for another bite. Yes please!
When to match and when to seek contrast is up to our personal preference, but as a general rule the most important this is to avoid having a drink so intense it mutes the food or vice versa. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind when coming up with food and beer pairings…
What to Eat with Our Favourite Beers?
As we could spend a very, very long time discussing pairings for the myriad of beer styles out there, let us focus on some of the most popular and distinctive styles.
Lagers – The humble lager is probably one of the most versatile drinks when it comes to pairings. It will provide a refreshing break when sipped in between spicy bites (from tacos to Thai) and a palate-cleansing relief when enjoying rich fatty foods like chicken wings, fish and chips or sausages. It’s also a safe choice when served along high acidity dishes such as a lemony ceviche, which would normally be just too sour for most wines.
Sours – These refreshing beers are a bit trickier. Their tart nature it’s a double edge sword that can both cut nicely through the fat of a dish or destroy any memory of it on your palate if it’s too delicate to keep their pace. Mussels and grilled prawns are among the foods that a sour will enhance. Takeaway night? Egg rolls will work as well. Feeling like something meatier? Cured and smoked meats will provide an interesting contrast.
Pale Ale – A bit richer than a lager but still quite refreshing, these mild ales are incredibly food friendly. With their toasty buns and meaty center, burgers are a great match, and so is a juice steak or a crispy roasted chicken. They are good friends of bread and dough so sandwiches and pizzas are also happy matches.
Red Ale – Maltier and nuttier than its paler counterparts, red ales provide a soothing and caramelly balance to spicy cuisines like Cajun and a harmonious enhancement to cured meats with a sweet note (think maple bacon anything!). They’re also a fine companion for a meaty pizza and mature cheeses of nutty character like an aged cheddar or Gruyère.
Weisse Beer – This creamy style of beer tends to have notes of riper fruits like banana or orange and a richer texture than other light beers as well as a yeasty character. Its hearty yet light style is pleasant against a chicken or turkey salad (bonus points if it the salad has a fruity element), and it will make nachos and dishes with guacamole shine. You could also go traditional and get a pretzel or cooked ham, and of course, a hot dog. If you’re looking for a sweet treat, try them with banana bread.
IPA – IPAs are a genre of their own at this point, so in here we mean a classic IPA of moderate strength (5 to 8% ABV) and hoppy character. The beer’s bitterness enhances umami flavours and helps counteract the sharpness of spice. Said this, spicy chicken wings make sense! Hearty curries will also benefit from IPA’s contrast. But for an all-American classic, BBQ is the way to go.
Porter – Now we’re entering the dark side and it’s time to get the chocolate out. If you’re not ready for dessert, porter’s smokey maltiness and medium body will find a harmonious pair in venison or duck. They will also mingle happily with lamb and some of the lighter porters can even accompany more delicate dishes with an earthy edge such as trout, terrines or rabbit.
Stout – Technically a type of particularly strong porter, stout beers are a league of their own. Guinness would be the most famous example but it’s definitively not alone. Fuller in body and more intense, you can follow the path of contrast and match them with buttery seafood (or the aforementioned oysters), or take the affinity road and accompany them with stews, pies and hearty beef and pork dishes.
Thirsty for more delicious ideas, recommendations and beer news? Keep an eye on our Beer Bites, brought to you in partnership with the Irish Brewers Association and giving the spotlight to all things hoppy! Stay tuned or join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #BeerBites.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.