So you’re out at a restaurant having dinner, flipping through the menu. You’ve placed an order for your food and started reading through the drinks list looking for a suitable addition to your meal. But what you feel like drinking right now might not be the most suitable for your dish.
How do you go about deciding what to drink?
Most people might associate food pairing with wine but with over 140 craft beer styles, choosing a craft beer could definitely be a more viable option.
But first, you will need to understand the ingredients that makes up a craft beer, and how those components affect your palate. The many different combinations of malts, hops, yeast, and water could be generalized into the following factors as a guide to a great pairing; flavor, mouthfeel, and taste.
There is a wide range of flavors that could exist in a beer, we can further narrow it down to the key ingredients – malts, hops, and yeast.
Generally, there’s three ways to approach this – commonly called ‘The Three C’s':
Complement - A beer pairing with a similar flavor profile as your dish.
Contrast - A beer pairing with distinct and opposed flavors that can clash or balance the flavors of your dish.
Cleanse - A beer pairing that cleans your palate from strong or fatty flavors of a dish.
A common example of a complementing pairing will be pairing a fruit tart with a fruity sour beer as it draws out the fruitiness and lightness of the tart while the sourness of the beer complements the sweetness of the dessert. A creamy, roasty, chocolate stout also pairs perfectly with a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream where the creaminess and sweet flavors accentuates the profile of both the beer and the dessert.
On the other hand, attempting to contrast your meal using a craft beer with opposing flavors is fairly risky, but very rewarding if you succeed. The best way to is to find a pairing with a very distinct and opposed flavors. A classic example will be pairing a stout with fresh oysters, as strong, briny, savory flavor of fresh, raw oysters contrasts greatly with the rich, roasty, chocolate bitterness of stouts. This classic pairing inspired many breweries to brew a literal Oyster Stout by adding actual oysters or oyster shells in their brews.
Lastly, a cleansing pairing is fairly simple as most of the pairings involve using a light, crisp beer. A common local example will be pairing a light, crisp, dry pilsner with your local hot pot place. The light, crispness of a pilsner will clean out the rich, mixed, savory flavors of your hot pot while the strong carbonation rinses out the fatty oils.
Among The Three C’s, there are also some general guidelines that can help you cheat through the craft beer list. You can always have a hoppy and bitter beer to balance out spicy foods, or a light fruity sour beer to complement shellfish, drawing out their natural sweetness. A dark and roasty beer can help you cut through fatty dishes, or using a malty and sweet beer to highlight the umami of succulent meaty dishes.
But in the end it is all up to your imagination and creativeness! Craft beer is much more forgiving than other alcoholic beverages when it comes to food pairing as it has a certain limit of how negative it can affect your overall experience. Go out, be adventurous, and try out new combinations!