How to Drink Better Beer, Part Six: Beer and Food

This is part six, the final post of a six-part series (click here for part one, part two, part three, part four & part five) on improving your beer drinking experience. While the series is written for Better Beer newcomers, it is advice that is beneficial to even the most seasoned beer drinkers out there. Cheers.

image by Diana Nevermind

I had the topic for part-six planned since, well, 6 days ago but it was the only one I hadn’t written yet. So I found it a tad ironic when I woke this morning to see an article in my RSS reader from today’s Washington Post entitled “Thinking Outside the Wine List” all about pairing beer and food together.

The concept of pairing beer and food is a relatively new one, or at least its popularity is. But Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, said to The Post,

“We believe that tying beer to food is the way to keep craft beer sales growing.”

Or, as Garrett Oliver – the Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewing Co. – says in his book, The Brewmaster’s Table,

I love wine and frequently enjoy it with my meals. But I’ve never enjoyed wine with all the types of food that I actually eat every day. A roast rack of lamb? Sure, I’d love to have a bottle of Burgundy (though I know beers that will match the lamb just as well). But how about Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Cajun cuisine, and American barbecue? I love this stuff too, and I don’t want wine with it. Yes, I’ve had all the wines that will supposedly match these foods. Guess what? They are a poor substitute for traditional beer. Why? Because spices distort wine flavors, turning white wines hot and red wines bitter. Because wine doesn’t refresh the palate the way beer does. Because wine has no caramelized or roasted flavors to match those in our favorite dishes. And because, even according to wine experts, there are many foods that are simply no good with wine.

But, if you’re new to pairing beer & food with one another, where should you begin?

  • Match strength with strength. Obviously delicate dishes work best with delicate beers, and vice versa; strong foods call for strong beers.
  • Find harmonies. Combinations often work best when they share some common flavor or aroma elements. For instance. the nutty taste of a brown ale accents cheddar cheese perfectly. While the dark, strong, roasted flavors of an imperial stout go hand-in-hand with chocolate truffles. The rich flavors of caramel malt in an Oktoberfest accent a roasted pork, and so on.
  • Consider sweetness, bitterness, carbonation, spice and richness. The characteristics of food and beer interact with each other in predictable ways. Put a little thought into what’s on the plate in front of you – taking advantage of these interactions ensures that the food and beer will balance each other, each giving you a desire for a taste of the other.
  • Consider seasonality. Like light food and beer in the warm summer months or heavier beer in the winter, the beers and foods of a given season pair very naturally and suit the mood as well.

The truth is that practice makes perfect. You won’t get a pairing to be 100% accuracte on your first try but, before you know it, you’ll have the practice of pairing beer and food down to a science. The long and the short of it – don’t be afraid to try things out and seek new possibilities; the best pairings have yet to be discovered. As the Brewer’s Association reminds us,

All beer and food combinations should involve both of these principles. Some pairings will be more dependent on the contrasts, others on complementary flavors, but all should strive for some kind of balance. The chart at the left shows the important contrasting elements.

For more on pairing beer and food: read the list of basic food and beer style pairings from the Brewer’s Association’s website or their list of craft beer and food pairings specially designed for the holidays.

Also check out The Best of American Beer and Food, a book by Lucy Saunders, which covers both pairing food and beer and cooking with beer; The Brewmaster’s Table by Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver, which has been called “The best and most important book ever written on the subject of pairing food and beer.”; Beer & Food: An American History, by Bob Skilnik is “The first book that gives a historical look at why beer and food are truly partners in today’s kitchens”; and He Said Beer, She Said Wine:Impassioned Food Pairings to Debate and Enjoy — From Burgers to Brie and Beyond, by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head fame, is the first fully illustrated book on the market to give in-depth instruction on how to successfully pair both beer and wine with a wide variety of foods.

All of these and more are available from, so get started with your beer & food pairing education today!

Well, that does it for “How to Drink Better Beer”, I hope you enjoyed all six posts. Don’t want to miss out on any more of the great offerings from Blog About Beer? Subscribe to the RSS feed now!

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  1. Nice article!  I particularly like the quote from Garrett Oliver.  I’ve been writing up a lot of ideas about beer and food pairings and I truly feel that it is an under appreciated idea.  I’ve actually been running beer and food pairings with my friends occasionally and they have been a great success!  I ever did one with wines and beers and the beers won out! Yeah beer. 😉

    I also love “He Said Beer…” it’s a fantastic resource!

  2. Rogue Ales Brewery out in Newport, Oregon makes some terrific, award winning beers and actually puts pairing information on their bottles.  It is definitely worth trying and experimenting different beers with various foods. 

    Plus the beer is some of the best in the WORLD! It never hurts…

  3. Great post. Some of the best beer I have tasted came from WI. They make really good wheat beer with a great after taste.

  4. I’ve just started pairing beers with my meals nightly, but I haven’t been disappointed so far. New Belgium makes some brews that pair well–Fat Tire with salmon, 1554 with grilled chicken. You might also think about adding a seventh post in this series. Cooking with beer offers an array of interesting flavor possibilities. I make a mean plate of clams steamed with Sam Adams. 😉

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