It’s not just for wines anymore.

Until recently, beer has not been considered “sophisticated” or “complex” enough to be seriously considered for food pairing.  But due to huge jumps in the craft beer industry over the last decade, the market now offers a broad selection of beers with unique flavors, including banana, walnut, chocolate, watermelon and even oyster. Michelin-starred restaurants have started to provide a carefully assorted list of beer in their menus. Beer no longer belongs only to college parties or Friday night football.

What makes beer more approachable to beginners than wine? Its versatility can complement any kind of cuisine. While wine has no place at a pizza party, the flavor-matching prowess of beer can complement whatever food you have in your fridge. We all know that beer is a perfect companion for BBQ, burgers, or fried chicken, but it’s equally suitable for sushi! A mix of gourmet sushi with a Sapporo or Yebisu is a common scene in Japan. Equally good matches are falafels, Peking duck, and even cheese or chocolate fondue. In addition, beer’s price and familiarity tops the majority of other types of alcohol.

 

Beer

Photo by Sheon Han

American Adjunct Lager

No matter how readily available lagers are, there are good reasons people match lager with greasy food like pizza, hot wings, or popcorns. A typical fizzy lager has a light body that stands up to the oiliness of fatty food.

But lagers aren’t just for junk food. A Tsingtao is spectacular with Chinese roasted lamb on a skewer or the spiciness of Sichuan cuisine. The bite of bubbles that cleanses your palate makes it a great match for Greek souvlaki and Middle Eastern dishes like kebab and hummus.

 

Beer

Photo by Sheon Han

Amber/Pale Ale

Easy-drinking amber or pale ales are fair game for subtle and sweet flavored food. Ingredients best complemented by herbaceous spice create a particularly harmonious pairing. Anything like salmon fillet, seared scallop, fresh oyster, or oil-cooked garlic shrimp would be spot on. Amber ales naturally amp up the silky texture of oyster and the delicate freshness of fish.

 

Beer

Photo by Sheon Han

IPA

While the bitter-hoppiness of IPAs can overpower the fat and balance out the heaviness of junk food, it could also easily overwhelm the flavor when paired with lightly-spiced food. Thus, IPAs are perfect companions for highly spiced dishes. Instead of trampling over the spicy flavor, the hops in IPAs help tone down the rich flavors of curry-based or highly-spiced cuisine like Thai, Mexican, Indian, Peruvian, Middle Eastern and Korean. As I am writing this, I’m munching on pretzels with garlic and pepper hummus with a bottle of IPA.

 

Beer

Photo by Sheon Han

Imperial Stout/English Porter

Caramel or chocolate-like malt flavor of imperial stout is good enough just by itself. But it is one of a few types of beers that goes great with desserts. Savoring chocolate mousse with  Russian Imperial Stout, whose thick texture gives an strong aroma of heavy-roasted espresso, is a celestial experience. Stouts and porters defined by coffee-like malt flavor highlight any caramelized ingredients or braised dish. Char-grilled beef brisket or smoked bones are perfect with this special brew.

 

Beer

Photo by Sheon Han

Wheat Beer/Weissbier/Hefeweizen

These are the ones you would see in giant mugs for Germany’s Oktoberfest. The classic pairings for wheat beers are weisskrust and schnitzel. Their citrusy and bright aromas lift the flavors of original ingredients from the strong oiliness of deep-fried food and cleanse your mouth for the next bite. Wheat beers work well with char-grilled ribs, marbled and seared meats, or potatoes with sprinkles of bacon and sour cream.

To be perfectly honest, there is no definite answer for the perfect beer pairing.

Personally, I try to keep on hand six types of beers with light body (lager, weissbier, pilsner), medium body (amber ale, pale ale, IPA), and heavy body (stout, porter). But if you can sacrifice more space in fridge, I would add Pilsner, Bock, Lambic, and Dubbel.

Once you start enjoying the flavor, carbonation, aroma, and hoppiness, matching a wrong type of beer could be as disastrous as eating Oreos with tomato juice instead of milk.