Beer and food pairing tips from the USA

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Beer and food pairing tips from the USA

In America, beer with food is a growing trend. Nearly half of all craft beer drinkers say they drink it with food now more than a couple of years ago. Beer-and-food pairing in America is arguably more advanced than anywhere else in the world, with 88 per cent of craft beer drinkers enjoying it with their meal at least sometimes and 63 per cent selecting the brew they are going to drink based on their choice of meal. Style-diversity, high standards of quality and innovation by American craft brewers have helped make beer the go-to beverage of choice when accompanying food for many Americans. 

The UK lags behind the States in its approach to beer and food pairings but a symphony of flavour awaits those who like to experiment and be creative either at home or when out to eat. Here are six top tips to elevate and enhance your beer and your food pairing understanding:

– match strength with strength. Pair delicate dishes with lighter American craft beers and strongly flavoured dishes with intense, more assertive beer styles. A barley wine will have a hard time getting along with a salad!

– 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 food-friendly and will go with almost any dish

– 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.

There are three main interactions with beer-and-food pairings – complementing, contrasting and cutting. For the first, look for harmonious flavours between the ingredients and the craft beer e.g., meatballs with a brown ale or a witbier with a salad and vinaigrette dressing. Roasting or grilling will complement the malts used in the beer and bring out the Maillard reaction.

Contrasting is the most challenging interaction on the palate and works best when the dominant flavour of the dish contrasts against the main flavour profile of the beer eg sweet and sour or bitter and sweet. A classic example is the tropical flavour notes of an American IPA with a hot, peppery spiced dish or curry.

Beer cuts through the fat of rich, succulent and creamy foods to cleanse the palate after every mouthful and leave it feeling refreshed, clean and ready for the next bite. The bitter strength and astringency of hops lifts fat from the palate and a sweet finish cuts away acidic flavours, leaving a pleasant sensation in the mouth. Sour and tart flavours can cut away sugary and fruity notes and the scrubbing effect of carbonation diffuses the richness of the food.

This will help get you started:

– crisp and clean eg pilsners, helles, kölschs, and blond ales. Refreshing, delicate and slightly dry, these styles work well with lighter flavours. Pair with pasta dishes, creamy risotto, salads or vegetables

– hoppy and bitter eg pale ales, IPAs, DIPAs and amber ales. Great with food that needs a bit of competition on the palate, think spicy, fatty or acidic. Hop bitterness lifts fat from the tongue leaving you ready for the next bite. Pair with spicy food, curry, pizza, cheese or carrot cake

– malty and sweet eg dubbels, dunkels, Scotch ales, and doppelbocks. Sweet notes of nuts, toffee, caramel and dried fruit from roasted malts complement foods that are roasted, crispy or browned. Pair with roast chicken, pulled pork, duck, charcuterie or cheese

– rich and roasty eg brown ales, stouts and porters. Beer with dark, rich flavours of barrel-aged bourbon, vanilla, chocolate and coffee work with dishes that have roasted fat such as red meats, nuts or chocolate. They’re great with anything charred, barbecued, grilled or with a clean, briny finish such as oysters. Pair with ribs, burgers, meat casseroles, barbecue, spicy food or chocolate/coffee desserts.

Bottle or canned-conditioned American craft beer can take food to places it’s never been before and is available from online retailers such as Athletic Brewing, Sierra Nevada, Beers of Europe, plus bottle shops, off-licences, subscription services and supermarkets.

Lotte Peplow is the Brewers Association American Craft Beer Ambassador for Europe

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