Beer Pairings

By Ethan Craig

Just as we are recovering from the smorgasbord of Thanksgiving fare (I have a soft spot for pumpkin pie!), the next round of holiday festivities and indulging is upon us. Scientific research shows that the thing people look most forward to this time of the year is the food. Okay, we really just asked some folks at the bar, but it seems accurate, and we agree with them, so consider it valid data.

Whether it’s your family’s recipe passed down over the generations or creating a new tradition with those close to you, what comes out of the kitchen and lands on the dining room table is a focal point of the season. When there’s good food, good drink is important as well. It’s common to hear about which wines pair best with different dishes, but beer is often a better complement to your food because of the diversity it offers.
Something to consider while pairing beer with your meal are the three C’s: Contrast, Complement, Cleanse. And always be wary of overpowering your palate.

Contrasting flavors can be a bit tricky. We want to find a dominant food flavor that won’t get washed away by the flavors of the beer. For example, oysters have a briny flavor, so find something that has enough flavor to contrast the brine without overpowering it. In this case, try out a rich, dark stout.

Complementing takes the same approach. A salad with a clean fresh flavor will be overwhelmed by a stout. However, a lighter pilsner or lager will bring out more flavors from the salad. This can also apply to fruit. A sweet dish heavy on fruit may also benefit from a sweeter beer by bringing out the sweetness in both.

Sometimes a flavor can be strong enough to linger on your palate and have a negative effect on the beer and food. The carbonation of beer can save the day and cleanse your palate, leaving you ready for the next sip or bite. My favorite example of this is blue cheese and IPAs. Some love the taste blue cheese leaves in your mouth and some don’t. But a cleansing IPA can help bring out the best flavors of both.

Finally, always do what you can to avoid overpowering your palate. A protein like chicken breast won’t pair well with a heavier beer. Having too many competing flavors can have a similar effect. At a paired beer dinner that I attended recently, an IPA infused with curry and spices was paired with a spicy Indian dish. The food and the beer were both so intense that they were fighting each other for my taste buds’ attention. My mouth ended up in intensive care, barely able to taste anything else the rest of the night.

Keep in mind the beers that you want to pair with the feast during the coming holidays. I am already planning pairings for my family’s Christmas celebration. For more information on specific beer pairings, drop by to see me at Tap & Six. Here’s a useful chart, as well.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! ❍


Ethan Craig is Craft Beer Curator at Tap & Six Craft Beer House, a craft beer bar and market in historic Roswell at 23 Oak Street.

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