Beer is one of the most versatile and intriguing beverages to match with food, yet the clear potential of food and beer pairing has been sadly under-explored. Fine restaurants may pay lip service to beer, but when it’s time to recommend what goes best with their food, they focus on their more profitable wine list. But great beer does not have to be exclusively paired with pub and tavern fare — beer can be complex and fascinating just like wine, and make intriguing pairings with food! In this blog, we explore how different styles of beer pair best with certain kinds of food, as well as some of our favourite pairings.
Crisp and Clean Beers - Lagers, Pilsners & Kolsch
Not all light beers are just fizzy yellow water made in bulk by huge companies. These beers can be delicate, effervescent and minimally flavoured in finish --but this doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer! The easy, refreshing flavours of these beers work very well with food by contrasting and complementing the mild flavours of some meats and carbs, cooling fiery spices, accenting the acidity and pop of citrusy flavours, but most importantly, they help to reset and refresh the palate with the help of carbonation that cuts fattiness. Think of them as scrubbing your taste buds between sips! With their light, bubbly textures and low alcohol content, they’re incredibly versatile for pairing with food.
Choice pairing: Korean Kimchi Quesadillas with Pale Lager
Ultra savoury kimchi demands a clean, cooling beer that will stand up to the heat and spice without washing out completely. A pale lager that is well carbonated will help refresh the palate without spreading the heat too far around your mouth when you make these Korean Kimchi Quesadillas.
City Cellars beer pick: Troubled Monk Daycation Lager
Spicy & Fragrant Beers - Berliner Weisse, Hefeweizen, Witbier & Belgian Ales
Fruity esters and spice are commonly found in Belgian and German-style beers such as the Berliner Weisse, Hefeweizen and Witbier. Belgian yeast strains tend to impart peppery, spicy notes that contrast pleasingly with any sweetness in the beer, as well as that of whatever dish they’re paid with. And esters, formed during warm fermentations (ales), often have notes of banana, peach, apricot and other tropical fruits. Some Belgian beers even add actual spices such as coriander to the beer. Cheese-based dishes, like a burrata salad or blue cheese biscuits, will go lovely with these styles, as well marinated or smoked seafood.
Choice pairing: Seafood Ceviche with Berliner Weisse
A Peruvian specialty dish of cold marinated fish, the signature bright, citrus flavours of Ceviche demands a certain type of beer. Pilsner may seem like a good idea, but the assertive, bittering hops can clash with the dish. So instead, match acid with acid with a light-bodied Berliner Weisse, a tart but clean-finishing German sour which sets off the tropical flavours of Ceviche beautifully. You could also pair it with a Gose, which is a sour, wheat-based salt-and-coriander spiced beer. The salt sets off the citrus notes just like a margarita.
City Cellars beer pick: Blindman Lemons, Limes & Clementines Florida Weisse
Hoppy Beers - West Coast IPA, New England IPA & American Pale Ale
Hoppy, bitter beers may seem like the most difficult and formidable beer to pair with food. Hops have been added to beer since the Middle Ages (and are found in all beers), but experimentation with using hops in beer continues to reach new heights. There are hundreds of different kinds of hops which impart different flavours into the beer. IPAs and Pale Ales can overpower delicate food flavours and create an unpleasant aftertaste. So it’s good to pair them with foods with a good amount of acid and strong flavours to bring each other into balance. Dishes loaded with fragrant herbs are well matched by the herbal qualities in some hoppy beers. And, these beers have the power to stand up to spicy heat, while any residual sweetness and tang can help bring attention to umami flavours.
Choice pairing: Singapore chilli crab with New England IPA
The New England IPA (NEIPA) beer style is extremely popular, even if the brewer isn’t from New England! It’s usually a bit hazier and fuller bodied than a typical IPA. So staying true to its New England routes, pair it with a spicy seafood dish. We love this Singapore Chile Crab recipe — crab has a remarkable ability to elevate vibrant flavours, and with its spice and ocean airs, it begs for a potent, juicy IPA that will contrast the slightly sweet, miso-like flavour of the sauce, or even a Double IPA which amps up the alcohol, bitterness, mouthfeel and fruitiness all around.
City Cellars beer pick: 2 Crows Merida NE IPA
Sour & Complex Beers - Sours, Farmhouse & Saisons
Of all the taste sensations, sour can be the most exciting — sourness or acidity awakens other senses and provides a great counterpoint to salinity, spice, sweetness and bitterness. The acidity also brings on a powerful thirst, and they’re incredibly satisfying with the right foods. Sour beers earned their reputation in Belgium with spontaneously fermented ales that are aged in oak barrels before being blended and released. Belgium nourished other interesting beer traditions like saisons, which have a pleasant peppery bite, a yeasty tang and herbal characteristics, and go particularly well with cheese and creamy dishes.
Choice pairing: Sardines on Toast with Saison
Saison is an incredibly friendly food-pairing beer, with aromatic hops and a peppery yeast strain or two, which results in a worthy match for the unctuousness of sardines and their flavoursome counterparts in this recipe. A stronger, more funkier version will work best, but you can use a lighter version as well — just make sure it’s flavourful enough that it doesn’t drown against the dish.
City Cellars beer pick: Banded Peak Chinook Saison
Malty, Rich & Sweet - Stouts and Porters
How deep the barley grains are roasted affects the colour of the final brew and much of the beer’s flavour components — darker roasts lead to beers like stouts and porters. Desserts may seem like a classic pairing, but the full and sweet flavours of various baked goods, melted sharp cheeses, nuts, caramelized vegetables, crispy fried seafood and fruit-glazed meat meet their match with richer, darker beers. The big, roasty flavours in these beers shouldn’t contrast a dish but rather, complement it, matching these big flavours taste for taste. Rich, savoury-sweet dishes will stack up well against a stout or porter.
Choice pairing: French Onion Soup with Porter
The mellow, slightly sweet, caramelly nuttiness found in a porter works perfectly with caramelized onions. French Onion Soup, which can be overpowering with many wines, works great with a porter style beer. And when made with real caramelized onions, French Onion Soup is a real winner.
City Cellars beer pick: Collective Arts Stranger Than Fiction Porter