Guest columnist Adam Dulye (pictured), executive chef at the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade body representing small and independent American craft brewers, recently published a new book: The Beer Pantry. Here, he explains how to cook at the intersection of craft beer and great food.
Craft beer and food can transform each other. Beer has a wider spectrum of flavours than almost any other beverage and is highly versatile, lending itself perfectly to food pairings. Here’s my six-pack of flavour groups to consider when planning your menu.
Crisp and clean
These beers are refreshing, delicate, slightly dry and don’t overpower the palate. They work well with light salt, vegetable flavours or common citrus notes that naturally complement their flavour profiles. Salinity and carbonation respond well to the herbal notes of hops, which help enhance the food, and lighter fats like olive oil work really well with carbonation. Beer has a scrubbing effect that will lift fat off your palate and leave you ready for the next bite.
Beer examples: amber lager, blonde ale, helles, Kölsch, maibock, marzen and Pilsner.
Food friends: apple, avocado, clams, coriander, cucumber, fennel, fried food, ginger, green beans, leek, lemon, lime, mozzarella, potato, radish, sesame, shallot, tomato, turnip and white fish.
Food suggestions: grain-based dishes like risotto, various salads, vegetable dishes.
Hoppy and bitter
Hops contribute the majority of aromas and bitterness found in most beer styles. They respond well to pairing with fatty food, as the hops do here what carbonation does in a lighter style, ie cleanse the palate of overwhelming and intense flavours.
This flavour profile can be earthy and bitter with a lighter malt bill, hop-bitter/malt-forward with a strong malt bill for pairing with heavier dishes, or earthy, herbal or citrus, where the malt takes a back seat and the beer makes heavy use of intensely flavoursome hop-driven notes of citrus, resin and tropical fruit. Other beers can be piney, deeply citrus, herbal or floral, and work with foods that need a bit of competition on the palate — think spicy, fatty or acidic.
Beer examples: amber, barley wine, ESB, fresh hop, imperial IPA, IPA and pale ale.
Food friends: aioli, bitter greens, carrot, chile, chives, cream, cumin, friend chicken, garlic, parsley, sage, strong cheese, sweet potato, watercress.
Meal suggestions: spicy foods, curry, pizza, cheese, carrot cake.
Malty and sweet
One of the deepest connections between beer and food is the act of roasting, from malts to meats, known as the Maillard reaction. Malty and sweet beers develop caramel flavours and toffee notes due to the roast. These beers are less about contrasting and more about complementing.
The palate can expect a degree of sweetness, and notes of nuts, toffee, caramel and dried fruit are prevalent. Full-bodied and dark, they often rely on their carbonation level to showcase what little hops they have. A lot of German-style beers fall into this category, like dunkels and doppelbocks. They’re biscuity, like toasted bread, and best matched with foods that mimic these flavours, so anything crisply and browned.
Other beers, like Scotch Ales, are toasty, bready and warm, and work well with foods that showcase a savoury aroma or taste, especially roasted, glazed and braised rich foods that need a little sweetness to balance them out.
Beer examples: American amber lager, American brown ale, Belgian-style bubbel, bière de garde, dopplebock, dunkel and Scotch Ale.
Food friends: anchovies, beans, beets, celery, figs, mushroom, nutmeg, pancetta, paprika, prawns, soy sauce, squash, rye bread, thyme.
Meal suggestions: roast chicken, pork, duck, sausages, cheese
Rich and roasty
These beers bring intensely deep, dark, rich flavours: barrel-aged bourbon, vanilla, chocolate, coffee and sometimes a smoky aroma. Dishes that work well include those with roasted fats, eg nuts, as well as the iron content and minerality found in red meats.
When pairing, use ingredients that can hold up to these stronger styles of beers. Even though a beer may taste
like deeply roasted grains, dark chocolate or espresso, they’re often lighter on the palate than you think, so go heavy with the food such as roasted nuts, braised meats and chocolate desserts. Rich and roasty beers go with foods that are charred and grilled, or anything with a clean and briny finish, like oysters.
Beer examples: brown ale, imperial stout, Irish dry stout, milk stout, porter, Schwarzbier.
Food friends: aubergine, brown butter, chocolate, coffee, lamb, lentils, oysters, parsnips, peanuts, pecans, raisins, salt smoke, star anise, toffee, whisky and vanilla.
Meal suggestions: ribs, burgers, meat casseroles, barbecue, spicy foods, oysters, chocolate.
Fruity and spicy
Flavours in these beers are mainly driven by yeast, sometimes by the barrel, with notes of stone fruits, citrus, ginger and caper-like salt. Yeast produces flavour characteristics of banana, clove and barnyard hay and can be supported by additional complementary spices. To enhance the fruity notes, fruit or fruit puree may be added to the brewing process.
Some beers are bright, with tart stone fruit and citrus flavours, some are warmer and spiced with clove, pepper and vanilla. With such spicy aromatics, richer foods that would go well with rosé or red wine work here and beers full of fruit and spice are best accompanying ingredients already associated with those flavours.
Beer examples: Belgian blond ale, Belgian-style wit, gruit, hefeweizen, saison, tripel, quadrupel.
Food friends: buttermilk, candied ginger, game, grapefruit, grapes, horseradish, mussels, olive oil, orange, oregano, peach, pear, vinegar.
Meal suggestions: shellfish, seafood, fish and chips, sushi.
Sour, tart and funky
These styles are often barrel-aged and may have fruit or natural sugars added to accentuate flavours and tartness. Sour beers have become the darlings of the craft beer world. Farmhouse, leather, hay, grass and even wet socks may not sound appealing, but if you like acidic, biodynamic wine you’ll love these.
They range from gentle, light, almost bone dry beers, such as Berliner weisse or gose, that are great with raw or barely cooked seafood, to lambics or gueuze, which may contain fresh fruit like strawberries, tart cherries, rhubarb and pomegranate, and Flanders ales, which may be a little more vinegary, but which make a great sweet and sour sauce when reduced.
Beer examples: American Brett, American sour, Flanders ale, gose, gueze, lambic.
Food friends: apricots, balsamic, basil, bay leaf, cherries, chutney, Gorgonzola cheese, goats cheese, juniper, liver, melons, pineapple, pomegranate, prosciutto, roe, sourdough, squash, yoghurt.
Meal suggestions: creamy desserts, cheesecake, crème brulee, Black Forest gateau
Find out more
See my new book, The Beer Pantry, (Dovetail Press) for recipe suggestions.
Chefs, caterers and food lovers are welcome to make use of the wealth of free resources available on www.brewersassociation.org, including the newly updated and expanded Craftbeer.com Beer and Food Professional Course, downloadable free of charge at www.craftbeer.com/food/beer-and-food-course
For beer and food lovers, the Brewers Association publishes American Craft Beer and Food: Perfect Companions — a handy 12-page booklet detailing the basics of beer and food pairings, including a chart with 28 different beer styles showing pairing guidelines for main dishes, cheese and dessert. Download it from
There is also the Brewers Association Guide to American Craft Beer — how to understand and appreciate
great beer, looking at ingredients, terminology, best approaches for presenting and enjoying craft beer, and the many different styles of craft beer available. That’s at