Beer and Food Pairing

Experience the Diverse Flavours

It’s certainly not uncommon to have customers come into a store and ask the staff about wine pairing options for their dinner. Now that many customers are becoming more familiar with different beer styles, they’ll also be looking to beer to complement their food. Many experts assert that beer offers more diversity of flavour than wine and as such offers a broader range of pairing choices.

Beer can easily replace wine as a suitable pairing choice for many assertive and complex cheeses.

Combining beer and food to create a multi-dimensional flavour profile is by no means a new phenomenon or trend. However, not so long ago, a person’s ability to select a great pairing was limited by the lack of selection of beer styles at a local shop. This is no longer the case. Beer retailers in Alberta now have an enormous number of brews with a wide variety of styles and categories to offer their customers. Let’s delve into some time-tested classic pairing options as well as some newer and more off-the-wall pairings to present to consumers looking for the perfect beer to accompany their meal.

Complementary Pairings

When we want to complement a dish, the goal is to meld similar flavours in both the food and the drink. This is where most people go astray. While certain flavours in a beer such as fruitiness or bitterness will accentuate those same flavours in a dish, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. “Like with like” can become disastrous when those flavours eventually contrast. Instead, look to recommend complementary flavours that are subtle, either in the beer or the food, or both.
For example, if you pair a rich chocolaty stout with a similarly rich and chocolaty dessert, be conscious of the fact that too much sweetness on either end will be overwhelming and not have the desired effect of a complementary pairing. For a very rich and sweet chocolate dessert, choose a stout that is on the drier side with hints of chocolate and caramel, as opposed to a full-on dessert stout. Inversely, if the dessert has some chocolate flavour but isn’t aggressively sweet, a very milky, sweet dessert stout will be just what the customer needs.

Herbaceous characteristics of both dishes and foods can be complemented as well. Belgian wits, farmhouse ales, and old-world style IPAs all have herbaceous and spicy characteristics that can accompany a dish that incorporates these same spicy notes. This concept applies equally to other complementary flavours that you might be looking for when recommending the appropriate beer to a customer, such as fruity, tart, bitter, etc.

Contrasting Pairings

With contrasting pairings, the idea is to suggest beers with flavours that oppose those found in the dish. Ideally, this works to accentuate those tastes and aromas in both. This approach can be very risky, so I can’t stress enough the importance of having knowledgeable staff that is intimately familiar with the beers on the shelf. Here it’s possible to pair sweet with sour or briny with malty.
For example, wheat beers tend to play well with seafood as a rule. Fish tacos and American hefeweizen are a favourite pairing of mine. The very subtle fruity notes of the beer contrast with the briny character of the fish to create a harmony that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
Creating contrasting pairings offers a great opportunity to recommend sour beers to your customers. A light, tart, fruity, and bubbly sour beer can be a great contrast to something that is also fruity but very sweet. Jams and compotes and other fruity foods that have concentrated sweetness can be offset by both the acidity and the carbonation in a fruity sour beer.
When customers come in and are planning a rich red meat dish, a contrasting pairing can be just the thing they’re after. Recommend a rich, dark beer in this instance. The sweeter, malty flavours can perfectly offset wild game meats or the salt and fat of a steak, roast, or shank.

Pairings that Cut

Beers can be used to wipe the palate clean and refresh it between bites. Customers looking for pairing options for rich, heavy dishes might enjoy beers with high carbonation or bitterness to cleanse the palate as they happily indulge.

Creating contrasting pairings offers a great opportunity to recommend sour beers to your customers.

Belgian ales are a solid go-to in this category as many of them are highly carbonated. This is another case where sour beers work well. Recommend Old World-style sours whose complexity elevates the dish, but where the acidity also serves to cut through the richness of fatty and decadent meats. This means that beer can easily replace wine as a suitable pairing choice for many assertive and complex cheeses.

An Extra Tip

It’s important to try to match the body and strength of the beer to the dish being served. When recommending a beer to your customer, be careful not to offer them a beer that’s too thin and light to pair with their meal if it’s especially rich. Likewise, don’t recommend a heavy or full-bodied brew that might overpower a lighter dish.

Enhancing the Experience

Now that we’ve covered the essentials of pairing flavours of beer and food, let’s discuss another major factor: experience. Many customers looking for just the right bottle (or six-pack) are planning something special. This might be an anniversary, birthday, or another important event. This is a great opportunity to sell higher-end options. While it’s still important to sell them a beer that would be a good fit for the food they’re planning to eat, it’s probably more important to consider the context. Suggest beers that have a story behind them or have considerable effort involved in the brewing process. As retailers, our goal should be to give customers the best experience possible by providing them with a product that ultimately enhances their experience. This might be an evening they won’t soon forget. It deserves a beer of that calibre. Barrel-aged imperial stouts, Belgian geuzes, barleywines etc. fit this role. These special bottles can be sipped and savoured amongst friends and loved ones long after the meal is done as conversation drifts into the night.