A great beer is great, a great beer with great food is double great, right? We asked a beer pro what to enjoy with what brews in delicious harmony.
Beer expert Mike Pomranz doesn’t need anything extra to enjoy a solid craft brew. His favorite thing to pair with beer: emphatically “nothing.” But, he does see the allure in a pair. “Some pairings elevate the food or the beer you are drinking. Some just kind of compliment each other,” Pomranz says. “As long as the food isn’t detracting from the beer, it works. You just don’t want to destroy something by overpowering it—by having penne pasta and stout.”
We asked Pomranz (who has written about brews for Food and Wine, Tasting Table, and Playboy, and even crafted his own award-winning beer) to select the best pairings for five different types.
1. Pilsners & Pale Lagers + Fried Chicken
When you think of beer in America, what you are probably thinking of is a pale lager, like a pilsner. The big names (Budweiser, Miller, Coors) tend to fit into this category, so craft brewers are just beginning to put their own stamp on the genre.
“It’s America’s favorite style of beer, and because of that it pairs well with America’s favorite style of foods—hot dogs, fried food, hamburgers, pizza.” Pomranz recommends pairing a succulent fried chicken with a refreshing brew that can clear the fat and salt from your palate like, Firestone Pivo Hoppy Pils, Victory Prima Pils, or the slightly citrusy Anchor California Lager.
2. India Pale Ales, Double IPAs and India Pale Lagers + Cheese Plate
“These are the trickiest for pairings because they are so strong in their hop characteristics you almost want a counter pairing—a food that balances your IPA,” Pomranz says. He recommends going with a multi-note grub to interest your tongue as much your beer will—like the complex meat/cheese/bread mash up of a hamburger or the intense flavors of a cheese plate.
Put a cheese plate together with funky options like pungent epoisses, creamy camembert, or uber funky blues, and choose a bold, extra piney brew like Green Flash West Coast IPA or a trendy fruit-enhanced IPA like Dogfish Head’s Romantic Chemistry IPA to help round the sharpness.
On the rise in the craft beer world are India Pale Lagers, which have all the bold flavor of IPAs, but, because of their differing yeast, finish clean. If you're looking for less of an aftertaste, try an IPL like Great Raft Brewing’s At Arm’s Length.
3. Saisons + Briny Oysters
The more complex flavors and dry finish of Saisons make them comparable to a dry white wine, so they are perfect for pairing with foods that need to be tempered just a bit—think bold spicy Thai like Pad Kee Mao, salty and buttery popcorn, or extra briny oysters like Malpeques to match the dry funk of say Hill Farmstead’s Dorothy.
“Saisons are farmhouse style, in that sometimes you don’t quite know what you are going to get,” Pomranz says. That wild swing means they can hit anywhere from very straightforward to more funky, so taste your choice before deciding what to buddy it with.
4. Lambic & Gueuzes + Salad
The wild yeast that makes lambic beers, particularly gueuzes (pronounced like goos), create super funky brews that have a light effervescent quality similar to another bubbly—champagne. Pomranz imagines pairing gueuze with foods that could use a bit of lift, making say Tilquin Geuze or Allagash Coolship Resurgam a perfect foil for a salad with arugula, pears, and perhaps blue cheese to compliment those grassy flavors.
5. Stouts & Porters + Dessert
Dark beers are where pairings get easy. “When you think of beer or wine pairings in the simplest terms — it’s would you want to pour this into your dish,” Pomranz says. Would you use this to make a sauce or a reduction? Or in the case of pairing food with roast-rich stouts—would you want to pour chocolate sauce all over it? Ice cream or a fresh fruit dessert with oodles raspberries could stand up perfectly to Left Hand Milk Stout or Lancaster Milk Stout. While a doppelbock or eisbock, like Wasatch Devastator, can bring a raisiny flavor to perfectly complement a chocolate torte or a fruitcake.