Choosing craft beer pairings that enhance one another requires attention to the dominant taste and flavor elements in each. When approaching pairing, success is often found by identifying the characteristics (taste elements, flavors, intensity and sensations) of the craft beer you plan to pair with.
The Craft Beer Characteristics Chart below can help you unscramble the web of interactions and flavors that happen when paring craft beer and food.
Craft Beer Characteristics Chart
The Four Corners Of the Characteristics Chart
The dominant craft beer taste elements will contrast against the food’s taste elements, so that the beer and food flavors shine.
- Sweet calms sweet - (allowing other flavors rise to the surface). Examples: peas and carrots; milk and cookies; stout and vanilla ice cream floats.
- Acidic calms salt – (acid cuts the salt and balances flavor to create a “cleanness”). Examples: ceviche and tortilla chips; tomatoes and mozzarella cheese; pickles and a corned beef sandwich.
- Bitter calms sweet – (allowing other flavors rise to the surface). Example: the sweet of malted barley is calmed and balanced by the bitterness of hop alpha acids. Think: An India pale ale’s bitterness calms the sweetness of the icing on a carrot cake.
- Umami complements umami. Examples: mushrooms on fettuccine alfredo; parmesan cheese on spaghetti and meatballs; an aged old ale and holiday fruitcake.
Photo © 2010 Randy Mosher
Look for flavor bridges, where the flavors of craft beer can bridge to the flavors in a food dish. This helps create harmonies, home runs and the complementing interactions we all enjoy.
Below you’ll find examples of flavor groups. Look for commonalities within a group, as they will be helpful in choosing pairings. Example: a porter with hints of vanilla and chocolate can complement a brown sugar caramel cake.
This list represents a tiny sampling of common flavor groups, offering a suggested pairing to help make the connections.
- Group: Rosemary, juniper, pine, spruce
Pairing: American pale ale and rosemary-dusted creamed chicken
- Group: Brown sugar, butter, caramel, maple syrup, vanilla, coconut, toffee
Pairing: English-style barley wine and blonde brownie with butterscotch sauce
- Group: Mint, dill, basil, endive, coriander, fennel, parsley, lemongrass, bay leaves, oregano
Pairing: Belgian-style saison and white fish with lemon and dill
- Group: Cinnamon, cumin, pepper, cardamom, ginger, clove
Pairing: Ginger porter with Moroccan clove and ginger beef shish kebabs
- Group: Date, fig, raisin
Pairing: Belgian-style strong dark ale and bacon wrapped dates
- Group: Pineapple, tangerine, clementine
Pairing: American-style India pale ale and orange chicken stir fry
- Group: Chocolate, truffle, cocoa powder
Pairing: Milk stout and double chocolate cake
Match strength with strength. Craft beer and food pairings are most successful when the intensity of the beer matches that of the dish. You don’t want the craft beer to outweigh the food and vice versa.
Sensations cause rests or palate resets and can even calm/cut through food’s oils, creams and fats.