Bringing Beer to the Table

by Irina Vishnevskaya, Tastemaker in Residence

I will admit, I worked in the beer industry for quite a while before I finally realized that food and beer actually really are two peas in a pod. 

In fact, some contend that beer is actually a better mate for a meal than wine. This is simply because there are more ingredients to play with and as a result a wider palate of flavors is attainable. Vintners are stuck with grapes and the changing weather trends, while brewers can experiment with barley, hops, yeast, and additional spices, nuts, chocolate, fruits and vegetables. 

So now what? Are you just supposed to mix and match any beer with any food? Well, you could, there’s obviously no rule against that. Or you could try to really skillfully pair the flavors in your beer with the flavors in your meal to create the kind of match the heavens sing of. 

Here are tips of the pairing trade that I’ve picked up along the way: 

School of thought 1: yoke equally 

Some say that you need to have similarities in the food and the beer, that they need to be  a pleasant echo of one another, in order to make a good pair. So this is the kind of ethos that would pair a rich chocolaty stout with a chocolate cake. 

School of thought 2: opposites attract 

Others say that a good pair compliments one another through differences. This is why sweet and salty combinations seem to work so well. For example, a classic combination is dry, bitter stout with oysters, because the stout cuts through the inherent sweetness of the shellfish. 

Match impact 

Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and a person who’s words I tend to worship, says it best “…start off by making sure that one doesn’t overwhelm the other by matching up the ‘impact’ of food and beer. We want the beer and food to engage in a lively dance, not a football tackle”. What Oliver means by impact is the overall intensity and weight generated by the food or the beer. For example, a really authentic, spicy and flavorful Indian meal would tackle the gentle taste of a soft lager, but would stand up well to the richness of an Amber Ale. 

Fatty foods need bubbles 

Carbonation (otherwise known as bubbles) cuts though fried and fatty foods and does a sort of palate cleaning. Say you’re eating a cheese drenched pizza that leaves pools of oil underneath it. Definitely opt for a beer with plenty of carbonation (so go with ALES, LAGERS or PILSNERS and avoid WHEAT and STOUT). Intensity of hops is also a good match for rich food, so that’s another reason why an IPA makes a great fit for that pizza of yours. 

Light to dark 

Say you’re doing an appetizer, entree and dessert and you want to have a beer with each one. Always remember to start with lighter beer and progress to darker beers. Otherwise you’ll be overwhelming your palate early on and it will make catching all the subtleties in the lighter beers harder to catch. A classic progression might be lager/ pilsner with the appetizer, ale with the entree and a stout with the dessert. 

Common matches: 

  • ALE with burgers, asian food, Mexican food, spicy food, nutty food, Cheddar and Parmesan, 
  • LAGER with light seafood, sushi, grilled chicken, light pasta dishes, Latin food 
  • PILSNER with salads, salmon, tuna, Muenster and Havarti cheese
  • PORTER and STOUT with smoked foods, barbecue foods, bacon, chili, dark meats 
  • WHEAT BEER with light soups and salads, Goat and Feta cheese, citrus flavored dishes, sushi 

One of my favorite pairings: 

Vielle Provision Saison Dupont (Unfiltered, bottle conditioned Belgian Farmhouse Ale) 

*I especially suggest the Cuvée dry hopping version of this beer paired with a Falafel burger which you can basically set up like a normal burger but substitute the typical beef patty with a falafel patty. So simple to make: mix parsley, garlic, a bit of lemon, cumin, chickpeas and raw walnuts in a food processor. Form patties and bake in over for approx 30 minutes on 375 degrees. Refer to google search for more precise recipes. 

Experiment, try try and try again. It’s a labor of love; trust me. 

And if you’re really dedicated, check out this chart (link:  by the Brewers Association- it’s a comprehensive, detailed chart of all the beers you can imagine and their respective, suggested pairings.