020. Pairing beer with food

Pairing beer with food

As a Certified Beer Server, you will often serve beer to be enjoyed with food. Ultimately, pairing beer with food comes down to personal preference. There are some guidelines that will help you select beer to be paired with any food.

Parkers Blue Ash Tavern Craft Beer Dinner Pairing by 5chw4r7z on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Parkers Blue Ash Tavern Craft Beer Dinner Pairing by 5chw4r7z on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The syllabus is pretty slim on this topic. In fact, it says just that we “should understand that beer and food work well together, but do not need to possess knowledge of specific beer and food interactions.”

I haven’t come all this way to the very last section, to learn only that “beer and food work well together.” Let’s look at it just a little bit more in-depth. By the end of this very last section, we’ll be able to offer some thoughts to our customers and maybe even suggest some beer and food pairings.

We’ll also be a little better prepared in case you want to go on to Certified Cicerone®.

Beer and food pairing can give some surprising results

When I was first getting into wine I was really curious to see what all this wine and food pairing hubbub was about. Wine is known for going well with food, and I was skeptical that it would be any different than just drinking wine with a meal.

At Thanksgiving dinner, I sat down with a half glass of white wine and a half glass of red wine. I took a bite of turkey, then I took a little sip of white wine. Then I tried the same thing with red wine.

I was blown away to experience how the flavors of the food and the wine change when taken together!

Some of the foods on my plate were better with the white wine, while others were better with the red wine. Some foods were not as good with wine.

Not only that, but the flavors changed in a different way if I reversed the order. If I took the food before the wine, it was a different experience than if I took the wine before the food.

Although the latter was kind of tricky—don’t dribble all over yourself.

And this is just talking about the two wines before me that evening. I had recently returned from a trip to Burgundy, France, so it was probably a Chardonnay and Pinot noir we were drinking. If it were Sauvignon blanc and Zinfandel, it would have been a totally different experience.

Nonetheless, this experience opened my mind to pairing beer and food for equally interesting results.

Beer and food pairing can be tricky

Beer and food pairing can be equally interesting and equally tricky. It’s not as simple as “beer and pizza!”

We already learned of the numerous beer styles and their varied flavor profiles. With so much variety in flavor you can imagine that certain styles of beer go well with certain kinds of food. Certain styles of beer might go well with some foods, but can be amazing with some other kind of food, or not go well at all with another kind of food.

Lets look at two ways to compose your beer and food pairings:

  • Complementing pairings
  • Contrasting pairings

It’s curious that with wine I more often hear of pairing wine and food that contrast with each other, whereas with beer I more often hear of pairing beer and food that complement each other.

I’m not talking about contrast in a way that they clash. I’m talking about two opposite flavors or characteristics that are even better when mixed together.

Contrasting beer and food pairings

In wine, I more often hear suggested pairings that contrast. This principle can be carried over to beer.

For example, an acidic wine might go well with a fatty food. The acid in the wine cuts the thick, greasiness of the fats in the food.

This contrasting concept doesn’t go well in every way. For example, a wine with an overall light character wouldn’t go well with a food that has a very powerful flavor because it would be overshadowed.

It comes down to always trying new combinations, paying attention to what flavors and sensations go well together, and trying to figure out why you like it.

Examples of contrasting beer and food pairings:

Beer Food pairing Why it works
Stout Oysters The sweetness of the stout works well when it contrasts with the salty flavors in the oysters.
Lager Carne asada burrito The light mouthfeel of the lager won’t be too much with the heavy meat in the burrito, while the high carbonation cuts through the grease from the cheese, sour cream and avocado.
Sour Thai yellow curry The high acidity of the sour beer will contrast nicely with the Thai yellow curry, which tends to be the sweetest of the curries.

Complementing beer and food pairings

Another way to pair beer with food is to go for similarities.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the vegetables and polenta dish I ordered at Lost & Found in Oakland, California. So I asked the bartender to pick a beer that would go well with it.

He looked off into the distance and thought about it a while.

“I think the Farmer’s Reserve,” he concluded looking back to me, “because the citrus will go well with the vegetables, they have a little sour taste.”

Honestly, I wasn’t really in the mood for Almanac Beer Co. They have a lot of sour beers that are fun to try, but I don’t usually love their beer. Alas, the bartender had given it his best go, I didn’t want to let him down.

So I went with his professional recommendation, and boy was I glad.

It was so good.

The Farmer’s Reserve Citrus had hints of lemon zest, but not overpowering. It didn’t have really bold sour flavors like many of the beers I’ve tried from Almanac. It went really well with the sautéed vegetables which, if I recall correctly, had something fermented or something else that gave it a citrusy, acidic taste.

The bready flavors of the beer also went well with the creamy, cornmeal polenta that came with the vegetables.

On their own, the beer and the food were each good. Together, they were great!

Examples of complementing beer and food pairings:

Beer Food pairing Why it works
Pilsner Tuna salad The delicate, light pilsner won’t overpower the salad that is also light in flavor and mouthfeel.
Porter Barbeque sausage The roasted malts of the porter match the char from the barbeque, while the acidity cuts through the fat of the sausage.
Stout Chocolate dessert Many stouts are characterized by coffee and chocolate notes, and a heavy mouthfeel, which is a heavenly companion to the sweet chocolate flavors and rich thick mouthfeel of the chocolate.

For more ideas and concepts, in a concise article, I recommend:

Cury, James Oliver. How To Pair Food And Beer. http://www.epicurious.com. Accessed November 22, 2015.

Experiment with beer and food pairings

So this experience at Lost & Found was really eye opening for me.

I was at the point where I was kinda overwhelmed with complementary pairings.

Stout with steak is just too much. Each of them alone feel really full in the mouth and in the belly. They each have flavors that are really bold and overwhelming. Both of them together is just more than I care to enjoy.

But the bartender picked this pairing because he felt the citrus in the beer would be similar to flavors in the vegetables. And it worked really well!

It was also eye opening because I don’t love sour beers, I am still getting used to them. Most of the sour beers that I’ve tried were so overwhelming it seems like it would overpower any food pairing. But Almanac’s Farmer’s Reserve Citrus is mild and it was a great complement to the dish.


Ultimately, it’s up to your own preference—or your customer’s preference.

You can search online for all kinds of tips from every food blogger on earth. I suggest that you look into some guidelines, then be bold enough try all kinds of new things.

I like what Homebrew Academy says:

There really aren’t any rules when pairing food – you like what you like.

I hope you’re now open to enjoying how beer compliments food, and vice versa.

Also, I hope that you’re going to try all different kinds of beer with different foods to see what you like best, and get some more ideas for suggesting beer and food pairings for your customers.

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    I'm Nathan Pierce. I drink beer, I quit my job, and I'm planning to start a brewery. I also host a podcast about how to start a brewery. So I’m studying for Cicerone® Certification Program, Certified Beer Server exam.

    Study along with me!

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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