Pairing Terms and Interactions
- Complement: When one item from a craft beer or food complements the other during pairing.
- Counter/Contrast: When elements interact and either heighten or calm each other’s intensities. Malty sweetness counters the sugar sweet of a food and lessens the sweetness.
- Cut: The bitterness of hops cut and lessen the impact of fat, richness and oil in food. This allows you to more easily identify flavors and taste elements. Cutting also occurs from carbonation and acidity.
- Home run: When a craft beer and food pairing elevates the taste experience. The whole is better than the individual parts. 1 + 1 = 3!
- Train wreck: A clash of elements or flavors from the meeting of food or craft beer. A train wreck is when the whole tastes less desirable than the individual parts. 1 + 1 = -1. Think orange juice and toothpaste. Yuck!
- Rest: When your craft beer or food ingredients provide a break and help renew and reset your palate. A rest can be an intermezzo in the middle of the meal.
- Bridge: Where craft beer and food meet ingredient to ingredient. Bridges help you find harmonies, also referred to as flavor hooks.
- Echo: When one flavor, sensation or intensity repeats
the other. These create more pairing harmonies.
- Harmony: A synergistic marriage of flavor and taste elements.
Interactions: Beer Ingredients
- The sweetness of malt reduces the heat of spicy food. In comparison, wine’s higher alcohol actually accentuates the warmth from many spices, which can be undesirable.
- Malt-forward beer styles include: brown ale, bock, porter, red ale, scotch and scottish ale, stout and Vienna lager
- The flavors of malt, which can range from caramel, chocolate, graham cracker, roast, toasted and toffee, harmonize with grilled, roasted and smoked foods because share many of these same flavors.
- Hop bitterness cuts through the fat in food, lessening the dense heavy feeling in your mouth. This allows you to more fully taste the ingredients of your dish and enjoy the true flavors of both your craft beer and food.
- Hop bitterness balances both malt and food’s sweetness.
- Hops may intensify spices and heat. A good rule of thumb is to pair malt-forward beers with spicy foods and hop-forward beers with rich or fatty foods.
- What hops bring to the tasting party depends on when they were added to the batch of beer and the type of hop used.
Beer’s carbonation (bubbles) works to scrub the tongue of fat and prepares your palate for the next bite.
Interactions: Food Elements
Salt flavors in food counter acidic flavors in beer—sour or wild ales become less acidic with salty foods. Sour beer styles include: Berliner weiss, gueze, lambic, flanders red and many “wild” or funkified beers.
Acidity exists to a certain extent in all foods, especially tomato dishes and many salad dressings. When you match acidic food with acidic beer, they nullify each other and only mute the overall acidity. This is desirable and helps enhance the enjoyment of both the dish and the beer.
Sweetness in either food or beer paired with an acidic counterpart increases the acidity. So avoid pairing sweet and acidic flavors together—imagine toothpaste and orange juice.
The same effect of acidic food with acidic beverage happens when you pair sweet with sweet. Try pairing a Belgian quadruple (often over 10% ABV) with a dense sweet dessert. You’ll see how the sweetness of the beer lessens the sweetness of the dessert and vice versa.
Acidic beverages cut fat, and that helps the palate sense more of the flavors from a fatty, rich or dense dish. See the above section on hops to learn why craft beers, which tend to be more bitter than mass produced lagers, work so well with dishes on the richer side.
Spice, Herbs and Heat
There are fundamental differences between spice, herbs and heat. For our discussion, we want to talk about heat—those additions to food that make your eyes water and your nose run—think capsaicin from chili peppers or pepper flakes.
Here’s a fun rhyme: sweet calms heat!
Heat intensifies alcohol, and as the alcohol penetrates your tongue and lips it acts like a solvent, which opens up your senses even more to the heat! The higher the ABV, the more you’ll notice this effect.
Be careful when pairing spicy foods with higher alcohol beverages as the pairing leaves you more vulnerable to the heat used to flavor your dish. Restrained heat and alcohol is nice, and creates a warming sensation in the mouth, but too much heat and alcohol is like throwing oil on fire.
Cheers and happy pairing!
Photos © 2010 Shutterstock, LLC.
Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, is a homebrewer, BJCP beer judge and Certified Cicerone™. Despite her extensive experience, she will always consider herself a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer. Additionally, for interesting articles on small and independent craft brewers follow Craft Beer Muses on Twitter.