Guest columnist Adam Dulye, executive chef of the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association representing small and independent American craft brewers, travelled to the UK recently to highlight the potential for beer and food pairings.
In the States, pairing beer with food is considered to be more developed and more mainstream than in the UK, but it’s becoming more competitive. What we’re seeing now is people looking for an experience when they go out, and not specifically for a certain dish or beverage. Restaurants, pubs and bars need to have a strong food, wine, cocktail, and beer programme to capture the experiential diner, but typically the list that needs the most work is the beer list.
One of the biggest arguments from restaurateurs is that beer cannot compete with wine on pricing. In recent years, studies have proved that a more diverse beer style list, that offers more than the standard thee to five styles, can compete at the same level, if not better than wine, on the average bill. Often, guests ordering craft beer with a meal will have more than one
beer, or supplement a craft beer with a diverse beverage pairing throughout a meal. Beer is lower in alcohol than wine, so people can try more beers with their meal, especially if they are lighter styles.
We also suggest using language and words that everyone will understand when talking about beer. Instead of describing an IPA as “hoppy and bitter”, try citrussy, herbal, or floral, or for a porter suggest “coffee, chocolate or caramel”.
When pairing beer with food, it shouldn’t be challenging or heavy on the palate. Lighter styles, in alcohol and body, that may contain fruit notes, such as lambic, gose or Berlinerweiss, are ideal for pairing with dessert and will leave the diner feeling refreshed, rather than palate-fatigued and satiated.
Whether you’re a professional chef looking for something different or you’re experimenting with beer and food at home, here are my top tips for creating your own pairing strategy.
• Match strength with strength. Pair delicate dishes with lighter American craft beers, and strongly flavoured dishes with intense, more assertive beer styles.
• Taste taste taste! Taste is personal — experiment with flavours and ingredients to find what works for you, and be adventurous.
• Use the dominant flavour or ingredient in a dish as the starting point. Hops are insanely food friendly and will go with just about any food.
• Think of beer as just another ingredient in a recipe, except it’s in a glass not on the plate
• Avoid incorporating American craft beer within a recipe because the cooking process drives off flavour, and depending on the beer, may enhance bitterness
• Foods with spice, heat or acidity are a great way to showcase certain beers — hops can calm heat and spices, malt can balance acidity, while carbonation can cleanse the palate
• Apply the three Cs — look for beers that complement, contrast or cut the flavours in your dish
Beer styles can be broken down into six flavour profiles
Crisp and clean (blonde ale, Kölsch, helles, Pilsner, maibock) — pair with pasta dishes, creamy risotto, salads or vegetables
Hoppy and bitter (IPA, imperial IPA, amber ale, barley wine) — pair with spicy food, curry, pizza, cheese, carrot cake
Malty and sweet (dubbel, doppelbock, dunkel, scotch Ale) — pair with roast chicken, pulled pork, duck, charcuterie, cheese
Rich and roasty (brown ale, milk stout, porter, schwarzebier, Irish dry stout, imperial stout) — pai with ribs, burgers, meat casseroles, barbecue, spicy food, oysters, chocolate/coffee desserts, chocolate
Fruity and spicy: (Belgian blonde ale, Belgian-style witbier, hefeweizen, saison, tripel, quadrupel) — pair with shellfish, seafood, fish and chips, sushi
Sour, tart and funky: (American brett, American sour, Flanders ale, gose, gueuze, lambic) — pair with sweet ’n’ sour stir fry, creamy desserts, cheesecake, crème brulee, Black Forest gateau, goat’s cheese
The Brewers Association publishes a wealth of free educational resources to help people understand and appreciate American craft beer and pairing with food. The Beer and Food Course is perfect for training staff or educating oneself and can be downloaded, free of charge, from craftbeer.com/food/beer-and-food-course
American Craft Beer and Food: Perfect Companions is a 12-page booklet detailing the basics of beer and food pairings. It is also downloadable free of charge at brewersassociation.org/educational-publications/craft-beer-food-guide/
About the Brewers Association
The Brewers Association (BA) is the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.
The BA represents 4,000-plus US breweries. The BA’s independent craft brewer seal is a widely adopted symbol that differentiates beers by small and independent craft brewers.
The BA organises events including the World Beer Cup, Great American Beer Festival, Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America, SAVOR: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience, Homebrew Con, National Homebrew Competition and American Craft Beer Week.
The BA publishes The New Brewer magazine, and Brewers Publications is the largest publisher of brewing literature in the US.
Beer lovers are invited to learn more about the dynamic world of craft beer at CraftBeer.com and about homebrewing via the BA’s American Homebrewers Association and the free Brew Guru mobile app.