The Space Where Beer and Food Meet: Food and Beer Pairing Best Practices

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Written by Charles McManus – Head Brewer, Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. 

Tasting new beers and discovering novel combinations of flavor with different foods is always fun, why not combine the two? As the great Russell Scherer once said “Beer is food.” But how do we pair beer with food? Let us discuss how we can put together a successful beer and food pairing that will excite your customers and allow you to continue to explore the space where science and flavor intersect. 

Pairing the right beer with a meal, appetizer or dessert can be as easy or complex as you would like to make it. The basic flavor profile of any beer style or experimental brew you make will ultimately guide you to what kind of meal, appetizer, or dessert you will pair it with. 

We can also consider the more specific attributes of your brews when we look at ABV, pH (acidity), IBU, and any additional features or ingredients you may be adding such as fruits, spices, wood-aged, etc. These more technical characteristics will present a new way of pairing beer with food.

Things to consider:

Acidity: Sour beers such as Barrel-aged wild beers or kettle sours go great with lighter fare such as salads, seafood, and salty bites. These beers also cut through oily and creamy foods such as a filet of salmon or a plate of assorted cheeses. Sour beers also act as a palate cleanser readying you for your next bite, you may even decide to have a glass as a side accompanying each course. 

ABV: Higher ABV beers tend to be balanced by a larger residual sweetness and therefore work well with desserts and more savory meals like a beef tenderloin or a pork chop.

Bitterness: High IBU beers, especially American IPA styles, play well with spicy, herbal-forward meals. 

Fruits, Spices, Wood-Aged:  Brewers are naturally curious and innovative. They love experimenting with new flavors and ingredients. Thinking about what would pair well with these experimental brews is a natural progression of this intrinsic curiosity.

Yeast Profile: It’s all about fermentation! The flavor profile that your yeast or other microbes present will be a major factor in what you pair with. Whether the beer is estery and fruit-forward, clean and crisp, or phenolic and zesty, every beer has a prime food pairing.

Design a Pairing:

Pairing beer and food with contrasting flavors typically works well with appetizers and entrées. A highly carbonated, peppery saison will liven up a roasted chicken breast and charred veggies or even a bowl of lobster mac and cheese. Decide what the flavor focal point is that you are looking to highlight and experiment from there.

Pairing beer and food with similar or complementary flavors can be successful as well. This works particularly well with desserts as a decadent send-off for the whole meal. A rich, imperial stout will meld well with a slice of German chocolate cake. Delivering a pairing such as this at the end of your beer pairing dinner will always be something to look forward to. 

Another avenue for creativity is using beer as an ingredient in the recipe of a meal you want to pair with. Certain styles of beer work great in batters, brines, and marinades while others do well in baked goods and stews. Get creative, get with a smart chef, and combine your talents to come up with something that is interesting to you both. 

Some fun and easy ways to pair your beer with food are to consider the season, locale, and any upcoming holiday festivities. Certain beer styles hail from regions of the world that have their own unique cuisines and most often those styles of beer pair well with those foods. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here, putting your own twist on a simple pairing will help create a lasting impression.

One key thing to remember is that the pairing is an extension of your creativity and there are no wrong ways to do this. Delving into your ethnicity, utilizing local ingredients, and showcasing personal inspirations are great starting points. Staying true to your own experiences makes for a much more interesting and memorable pairing.

Most importantly, enjoy the experience. The entire process of putting together everything that culminates in a great Beer Pairing is a lot of hard work. Enjoy each step, each sip and each bite. 

“Beer and Food Pairing – Best Practices” continues in the video below where I get to speak with Julia Herz, Executive Director of the American Homebrewers Association, as she shares her insights into how she pursues the perfect pairing. After that, check out our panel discussion with local owners/operators to hear about their experience with the marketing, training, and implementation of beer and food pairings at their Brew Pubs.

Video: The Space Where Beer & Food Meet, with Julia Herz & Charles McManus

PDF Presentation: The Space Where Beer & Food Meet

CBG Food & Beer Pairing Webinar

About Charles McManus- Head Brewer, Phantom Canyon

After completing the Food Science degree from Florida State University and developing his homebrew skills, Charles moved to Colorado to pursue a career in craft beer and earned a spot on the team at Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado. After brewing professionally since 2014, he was offered the position as Head Brewer at Phantom Canyon Brewing Company in Colorado Springs in 2018. While his passion for beer is obvious he is also an avid rock climber, food science geek, and a loving dog dad.

About Julia Herz Executive Director, American Homebrewers Association

Julia Herz is executive director of the American Homebrewers Association® (AHA)—the nation’s largest hobbyist not-for-profit organization for homebrewers and fermented beverages. Julia is a BJCP Certified beer judge, Advanced Cicerone®, medal-winning homebrewer, and experienced zymurgist having made beer, mead, and fermented foods since 1994. Julia is the co-author of Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros (Voyager Press, 2015), the CraftBeer.com Beer & Food Guide, and Co-host of Sense of Beer Style Show.

Prior to joining the AHA, Julia was the craft beer program director and publisher of CraftBeer.com for the Brewers Association, where she led the development of the Brewers Association’s Independent Craft Brewer Seal.

Julia has been at the helm of the 43-year-old membership organization since December 2021 and is available for interview or speaking opportunities to help your audiences discover the joy and ease of the hobby of homebrewing.

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