Craft Beer Food Pairings and How to do it Yourself

Pairing beer with food can be a difficult task – especially with the huge range of styles available.

Things get even more complicated when we take into account hop, yeast and malt varieties; all of which bring their own flavour to the beer.

Luckily there are three golden rules that we should always follow when attempting to pair beer with food.

Hoppist’s golden rules for pairing food with beer

  1. Match delicate beers with delicate food and full flavour beer with strong tasting foods.
  2. Use the flavours in the beer to complement or contrast those in your food.
  3. Eat, drink and be happy!

If you are pairing beer for a dinner party or trying to impress your friends, there a few more steps we can take to get the most out of our pairings.

First, we break down the beer into its major sensory components.

Then we judge how those components will interact with the flavours of the food.

Beer characteristics and their interactions with food

  • Body: Is the main focus of food pairing – i.e. light bodied beers will go well with salads, medium bodied beers with a Sunday roast and full-bodied beers with a rich beef stew.
  • Malt: Malt sweetness can balance spiciness and acidity whereas it can complement desserts with earthy notes such as an oat flapjack. Roasted malt flavours, however, compliment heartier meals and can balance the sweetness of desserts such as a coffee and walnut cake.
  • Bitterness (from hops): Emphasises spiciness in food, so may not be an ideal choice for a vindaloo but they also help to cut through sweetness and richness.
  • Aromatics (from hops): Can impart strong aromatics and flavours on the beer which can alter food pairings. Hop aromatics can often complement acidic foods including fruit or pickles.
  • Carbonation: Cleanses the palate and balances out umami, richness/fattiness and sweetness.
  • Alcohol: High levels of alcohol are great for cleansing the palate and can balance sweetness, richness and umami but the other beer characteristics generally play a greater role when pairing with food.

Each style of beer has different characteristics that will determine the foods that it will work with.

Beer styles and their food pairings

We have highlighted the characteristics of ten common beer styles and given some suggested food pairings.

Hopefully this will give you an idea of how those characteristics change the food that they pair with.

But remember, it’s always best to try before you buy!

Belgian Witbier

Body: Light to medium
Malt: Very light malt sweetness
Bitterness: Very light (10 to 17 IBU)
Aromatics: Very light
Carbonation: Very high
Alcohol: Medium (4.5 to 5.6% ABV)

Food pairings: The lightness of witbier makes it ideal for pairing with a light lunch such as salad, sandwiches and most seafood. Its high carbonation and alcohol levels along with light sweetness make it great for balancing salty or acidic foods such as bacon and pickles.
Cheese: Pairs excellently with the saltiness of feta or halloumi.
Dessert: Citrus desserts such as key lime pie will work well with the herbal spiciness of witbier and give a balanced floral palate.

Hoppist pick: Brew By Numbers’ 07|07 Belgian Witbier with Orange

German Pilsner

Body: Light to medium
Malt: Light malt sweetness
Bitterness: Medium (25 to 40 IBU)
Aromatics: Medium
Carbonation: High
Alcohol: Medium (4.6% to 5.3% ABV)

Food pairings: Pilsners’ high carbonation, medium hop character and light body make it the ideal match for oilier fish such as salmon or mackerel. These characteristics cut through the oil, refresh the palate and complement the fish with citrus notes.
Cheese: A nice, mild cheddar or young brie, will work well with most pilsners; perhaps served on a digestive (trust me).
Dessert: Pairs well with light flavoured fruit desserts such as pavlova or lemon tart.

Hoppist pick: Hop Stuff’s Unfiltered Pils

Blonde Ale

Body: Light to medium
Malt: Light malt sweetness
Bitterness: Light to medium (15 to 25 IBU)
Aromatics: Light to medium
Carbonation: Medium
Alcohol: Low to medium (4.1 to 5.1% ABV)

Food pairings: The overall light characteristics of blonde make it a great beer for pairing with salads, white meat, pork and herbs. It also pairs well with grains such as pearl barley or a creamy risotto.
Cheese: Creamy, light cheeses are a great match including Boursin and Le Roulé.
Dessert: Light and summery desserts work best, such as strawberry and basil tart or a fruity sorbet.

Hoppist pick: Redchurch Brewery’s Shoreditch Blonde

British Bitter

Body: Light to medium
Malt: Light to medium malt sweetness
Bitterness: Medium (20 to 35 IBU)
Aromatics: Very light to light
Carbonation: Light
Alcohol: Low (3.0% to 4.2% ABV)

Food pairings: As a light beer, it matches with a number of foods with mild and simpler flavour profiles including rosemary roast chicken, leaner cuts of pork and fish and chips.
Cheese: Pairs well with mild cheeses such as red Leicester, mild Cheddar and Emmental.
Dessert: Simple and traditional British desserts pair well including spotted dick, bread and butter pudding and any earthy oat-based desserts.

Hoppist pick: Southwark’s Bermondsey Best

India Pale Ale

Body: Medium
Malt: Medium malt sweetness
Bitterness: Medium to high (35 to 63 IBU)
Aromatics: Medium to high
Carbonation: Medium
Alcohol: Medium to high (4.5% to 7.1% ABV)

Food pairings: IPA’s strong flavours and medium body work well with a bold and spicy food. It’s medium carbonation and alcohol content cut through the spice and oils in curries like lamb jalfrezi. Hop bitterness will also accentuate any spiciness. IPA also works well with most game meats.
Cheese: Mild blue cheeses, such as Gorgonzola, pair with IPA’s strong flavours. Stilton works especially well as IPA can deal with its higher fat content.
Dessert: Sticky toffee pudding, Christmas pudding and chocolate fudge cake are all complimented well by a nice IPA.

Hoppist pick: One Mile End’s Snakecharmer

Pale Ale (English)

Body: Medium
Malt: Medium malt profile
Bitterness: Medium to high (36 to 63)
Aromatics: Medium to high
Carbonation: Medium
Alcohol: Medium to high (4.5% to 7.1% ABV)

Food pairings: Lighter pale ales go great with fish and chips. With just enough alcohol to cut through the grease often associated with fried foods and a delicate enough flavour profile to allow the fish to stand its ground.
Cheese: Well-aged English Cheddars are a great choice as Pale Ales can stand up to their tangy punch.
Dessert: Desserts with light but aromatic flavours work well with Pale Ales. Both bread and butter pudding or Crêpes Suzette are fine pairings.

Hoppist pick:  Five Points‘ Pale

Amber Ale

Body: Medium to heavy
Malt: Medium to high malt sweetness
Bitterness: Medium to high (25 to 45 IBU)
Aromatics: Light to medium
Carbonation: High
Alcohol: Medium to high (4.4% to 6.1% ABV)

Food pairings:  Amber ale lends itself to dishes that use a rich tomato sauce such as spaghetti bolognese, moussaka or a bean chilli. This is because the acidity of the tomato is balanced out by the sweetness of the malt. It is also strong enough to pair with BBQed or braised red meats and will refresh the palate with its high carbonation.
Cheese: High levels of bitterness help to emphasise the tanginess in cheeses such as manchego and Port Salut while the malt sweetness pairs well with a mature cheddar.
Dessert: Strong flavoured desserts are required to match with an amber ale. Carrot cake, pumpkin pie and spiced poached pear all work really well.

Hoppist pick: Gipsy Hill’s Southpaw

English Porter

Body: Medium to full
Malt: Medium to high malt sweetness and roasted malt
Bitterness: Light to medium (18 to 35 IBU)
Aromatics: Very light
Carbonation: Medium
Alcohol: Medium to high (4.5% to 7.0% ABV)

Food pairings: The medium to full body of porter and its roasted malt flavours makes it ideal for pairing with smoked and barbequed foods. It’s also a great companion for a chili con carne with a spoon of chipotle mixed in.
Cheese: Porters work well with both subtle and full flavour cheeses although soft and creamy cheeses work best. Roquefort and smoked cheddar are two great choices.
Dessert: Dark chocolate and coffee desserts are the best pairings for porter, so why not combine both of them with a dark chocolate, coffee and hazelnut roulade.

Hoppist pick: Canopy’s Full Moon

Milk Stout

Body: Full
Malt: Medium to high malt sweetness with light to medium roasted malt
Bitterness: Light to medium (12 to 25 IBU)
Aromatics: Light
Carbonation: Medium
Alcohol: Low to high (3.2% to 6.3% ABV)

Food pairings: With its full body, strong flavours are required to pair well with milk stout. Caramelised or BBQed meat and vegetables, including game, work well as do red meat stews and pies. Milk stouts are great with salty foods such as oysters, anchovies and capers.
Cheese: A well-aged nutty gouda pairs nicely as does pretty much any blue cheese!
Dessert: Dark chocolate profiteroles and bitter chocolate mousse are two of my favourite desserts to have with a milk stout. The stouts’ sweetness really helps to lift and emphasise the chocolate flavours.

Hoppist pick: Big Smoke’s Underworld

Hoppist’s favourite beer and food pairings

Over the years we’ve come across some weird and wonderful pairings at Hoppist, here are a few of our favourites.

If you’d like to discover what craft beer our capital has to offer, why not try one of our craft beer boxes that will be delivered straight to your door – anywhere in the UK!

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