Sadly they’re often overlooked as a couple. ’Never the twain shall meet’, the thinking goes, while wine gets all the attention as the eater’s drink of choice.
Well, we’d like to change that. Not only does beer have an amazing range of flavours in itself – from crisp and bitter to rich and chocolatey – but it’s a versatile, refreshing accompaniment to loads of different foods. Whether it’s midweek meal at home or a fancy night out at a restaurant, beer is a meal’s best friend.
You’ll see craft beer slowly making its way into restaurants and vying for space on the wine list. While it’ll never topple wine (nor should it, we love wine too), it is becoming a recognised alternative – and not just for that last pint with a curry – so the more you know, the better you’ll be able to choose.
How to choose a beer to go with your food
One common way to pair beer with food is to go for complementary flavours. This way, you’d match similar flavours like a pilsner (with its subtle spicy taste) with a zingy Thai green curry. The similarities play off each other but can occasionally be overbearing if you choose a really strong beer.
So another way of looking at it is with contrast. Opposite flavours can be satisfying to pair with one another – a sweeter beer might go well with a saltier meal.
Texture is important, too. So if you’re eating something that’s quite greasy, like a pepperoni pizza, you could aim for a more bubbly, hoppy beer like a pilsner to stand its own against the cheesy goodness.
You could also think of your beer in wine terms. Lager is typically seen as a replacement for white wine, and ale for red. The hops in beer work in a similar way to the acids in wine, cutting through fat and oil in rich foods. Heavier foods pair well with heavier beers (eg. stouts), and light foods with light beers (eg. lagers).
Let’s have a look at a few different options for the hungry beer enthusiast.
Starting light is always a good idea. It’ll get your taste buds in the mood, and won’t overwhelm you, especially if you’re on an empty stomach.
Why not start with a session ale? Sessions are lower-alcohol brews, not defined by a style or flavour, but by their (lack of) strength. So you could have a session ale, session IPA, or session pilsner – either way, it’ll be quaffable while you’re nibbling on olives and settling into the evening. These can also be known as Table Beers, and are likely to be about 3-4% ABV with light citrus or fruity notes.
On a similar note, you could also tickle your taste buds with a Pilsner at this stage of your meal. Pilsners are clean, pale lagers with hoppy flavours and light, golden colouring. Expect subtle floral, spicy or fruity flavours. Yum!
You might not want a belly-full of beer at this early stage of your meal, so treat it like wine and take it slowly.
Going for something filling?
The classic beer and a burger is always a good shout. In our Ancoats beerhouse we serve a DIPA chicken burger – chicken breast marinated in our own Double IPA – that goes smashingly with a pale ale.
You’ll generally find any burger goes with an IPA or lager, with citrus and other fruits complementing savoury tastes.
If it’s something lighter you’re after, like a chicken caesar salad, then a lighter beer of course will be a good fit. You could go for a Watermelon Wheat Beer in the Seven Brothers Beerhouse, or elsewhere, any lager or fruit beer. For pasta dishes and creamy risottos, the same thinking applies – keep it light to balance out the carb loads.
For dessert – well, you’d ideally want something dark and chocolatey, wouldn’t you?
You could go for a Seven Brothers Imperial Stout – a smooth, milk stout with salted butter caramel undertones. Or it would be the perfect time to whip out the Marshmallow Stout. It’s really rather moreish, with toasted marshmallow flavours and a malty sweetness. It’s like being at a campfire.
The Sling it out Stout is also an after-dinner superstar. This was made in partnership with Kellogg’s, using upcycled Coco Pops as part of the brew. (We’re tempted to call it a breakfast beer, but, well, that’s up to you…)
You could also pair actual desserts, like a crème brûlée, cheesecake or chocolate mousse with something fruity to balance the richness – like a fruit lambic or our own aforementioned Watermelon Wheat Beer.
All that said – there’s no rules here, only guidelines.
Fancy a stout with your trout? An IPA with your fillet (mignon)? A porter with your quarter (pounder)? Pale ale with your quail? Your choice. If you’ve got a favourite, stick with that. Cheers!