Header Ads

Pairing Beer and Food

Beer is a very versatile pairing with food having the ability to create a dining experience that brings out the best from the flavors present in the food and the beer. The versatility of beer pairing lies in its range of different styles which offer different flavors, textures and strengths that can match different food dishes.

Mugs of different beer
Mugs of different beer
The best dining experiences are a result of trying different pairings while also understanding the science behind it.

The Science of Beer and Food Pairing

Beer gets its flavor and style from the combination of its three main ingredients—grains, hops and yeast. The complexity of flavors, textures and strengths comes from the malting and roasting processes and the proportion of blending different malts and grains.

Hops provide bitterness and yeast contributes to a range of secondary flavors like fruity, bread-like, sour. Additionally, these three ingredients also influence the aroma of the beer, which is important as our sense of taste is connected to smell.

Different beer ingredients and beer styles
Different beer ingredients and beer styles
The mouthfeel when we take a sip of beer is the result of its impact on the sensory nerves in our mouth. Mouthfeel is the impression on the palate, the perception of body and depth ranging from light-bodied to full-bodied and the texture which implies the coarseness or smoothness of the beer.

The important aspect of pairing is to achieve balance of flavor and body, as the food should not overpower the beer or the beer should not bury the flavor of the food.

The objective of pairing beer with food must seek to harmonize the flavors and the mouthfeel to create a dining experience that is enjoyable and brings out the best from the combination of different flavors present in the food and beer.

The flavors and mouthfeel of the beer come from its three main ingredients—grains, hops and yeast and the carbonation process. To clearly understand the science of pairing food and beer, it is important to understand the influence of these ingredients on pairing besides the influence of the beer carbonation process.

Influence of Grains on Pairing

Grains are the foundation of the beer and besides flavor also gives the beer its texture and depth.

Barley which is the most common grain used for making malt, provides sweetness and malt flavor besides the sugars needed to create alcohol. Oats give a smooth richness to the body and adds a smooth, rich, creamy texture to the stouts. Rye adds a crisp, slightly spicy, sometimes dry aspect to the beer. Rice and corn, are neutral grains that do not change the taste but tend to lighten flavor.

Chocolate malt, crystal malt, and pale malt
Chocolate malt, crystal malt, and pale malt
A brewer produces the foundation for the beer by combining different types of malted, unmalted or roasted grains. The malting and roasting processes and the proportion of blending different grains creates a particular beer style with its own characteristic flavor and body.

Malts are categorized based on their malting and roasting processes. These processes influence the beer flavor, body and alcohol strength, that can range from a light bread-like taste to caramel sweetness—lightly toasty to toasty—or dark and bitter with low sweetness—light-bodied to full-bodied—alcohol by volume varying usually between 3%–8%.

The guidelines for pairing food and beer is to match the structure of the beer which is the combination of its body and alcohol strength to the food—strong food will overpower beer that is thin and light-bodied—strong, full-bodied beer will overpower light delicate food.

Additionally, the sweetness of the malt reduces the heat of spicy food while beers with higher alcohol tends to make spicy food seem more spicier.

Influence of Hops on Food Pairing

Hops provides the bitterness but depending on its variety can also contribute different aromatic and flavor profiles to the beer ranging from floral, earthy, grassy, spicy, herbal or citrus.

Hops
Hops
The bitterness provided by the hops is important to pairing beer with food as it can cut through heavy and rich food, keeping the tongue engaged and ready for another bite, while lessening the dense heavy feeling of the food.

Higher levels of hops can overpower food flavors and intensify spiciness so selecting a beer with a good balance of hops is essential when pairing with food, as balanced bitterness helps refresh the palate and create an enjoyable experience when paired with heavier and richer food flavors.

Influence of Yeast on Food Pairing

In most beers, the yeast contributes a neutral flavor but in some beer styles it adds flavor and texture. The Czech Pilsners have a mild, earthy, herbal and spicy aromatic flavor profile from the Saaz hops, Hefewiezens get their fruity banana-like aromas and flavors from the hops, and Sour beers get their earthy, fruity and sometimes funky character from the hops, besides its acidity.

Active dried yeast
Active dried yeast
All these flavors provide a rich option when pairing with food and can be used to create complementary or contrasting flavors which are very pleasing to the palate. Additionally, balanced acidity in sour beers is an important attribute when pairing with food, as it has the ability to cut through rich food flavors.

Influence of Carbonation on Food Pairing

Carbonation gives the beer its fizz and bubbles making it lively and fresh and also affects the beer flavor and texture. Carbonation helps to refresh the tongue as the little bursts of bubbles create a lively and fresher mouthfeel between each bite off the food, keeping the tongue interested and engaged during the meal.

Carbonation
Carbonation
Carbonation allows the ability to lift flavors and lighten the heaviness of fatty foods or rich desserts due to its fizz from the CO2 introduced by the carbonation process.

Pairing Beer and Food

Beer and food are a matter of personal preference and our palate is constantly evolving as we try new things. Though the common saying is "drink the beer you like with your food", knowing the science behind beer and food pairing, allows the possibility to experiment with different beer styles and food with a better understanding of the desired outcome.

There are different ways to pair beer and food and each method seeks to combine the two to achieve different results while avoiding pairings that simply don't work. Beer when paired properly with food adds to the flavor and vice-versa, creating an extra element of enjoyment in the dining experience.

Likes Complement Each Other

When food and beer have similar qualities, they can complement each other and enhance the flavors that they have in common. This approach means picking out one or two common flavors from the food and beer and pulling them towards each other.

Salad and beer pairing
Salad and beer pairing
An example of this approach is pairing a farmhouse saison, which is a light refreshing ale with notes of peppery spice or a Pilsner brewed with Saaz hops with a peppery salad. Both these beers are light and therefore also match the strength of the salad while enhancing a common flavor.

Likewise, a chocolate brownie complements the flavors of a dark, chocolaty stout.

Opposites Attract

Sometimes the contrast in flavors can create a great pairing and also help counterbalance a strong flavor like in the case of spicy food. The sweetness of malt reduces the heat of spicy foods making the overall dining experience more balanced and delightful.

A spicy Goulash
A spicy Goulash
Malty brown ales or British ales which have less hops provide a good balance to spicy Indian or Thai dishes as the sweetness from the malt diminishes the heat from the spice. Alternatively, a beer with higher level of hops or alcohol intensifies the heat from the spice.

Heavy Foods with Full Bodied Beer or Lighter Bodied Beer

When its comes to pairing heavy foods the choice of beer can vary from full bodied beers to medium or lighter bodied beers with good bitterness which can cut through the rich food and lighten the dining experience.

Shepherd's Pie
Shepherd's Pie
A heavy stout or porter is a great pairing with a savory shepherd's pie during the cold days of winter but lighter beers go well with heavy foods like savory pies and stews during warmer days.

Lighter or medium bodied beers with good bitterness from the hops can cut through heavy and rich food flavors and textures while refreshing the palate and creating an enjoyable dining experience. Therefore an IPA pairs well with cheeseburgers as the hops cut through the richness and also match the condiments and cheese ingredients of the burgers.

Versatility with Bitterness, Acidity and Carbonation

Besides an enjoyable dining experience the objective of pairing beer and food is to expand our palate and discover new tastes and experiences. Beer provides versatility when pairing with different foods due to its characteristics of bitterness, acidity and carbonation which exist in different proportions depending on the beer style.

Po' boy sandwich
Po' boy sandwich
The beer characteristics of bitterness, acidity and carbonation help freshen up the mouth while cutting through rich, creamy, oily, flavorful food recipes involving meat or fish. These characteristics are the base on top of which secondary beer flavors like spicy, fruity, earthy or herbal can be combined to match the flavors present in the food creating an experience that is more than its individual parts.

Recommended Reading

The Influence of Grains and Malts on Beer Flavor

Beer Carbonation and Its Effect on Flavor

No comments