When pairing craft beer with food, there are a number of factors to keep in mind: intensity, acidity, flavor balance, alcohol content, food interactions, and more. This may seem daunting at first. But while the variety and complexity of pairings is vast, the process can be simplified immensely by considering each factor under the rubric of matching vs. contrasting. Here are just two examples to get you started. Intensity is a great place to begin, and falls firmly in the matching column. You'll want to pick a beer that is well-matched to the intensity of the food. Think of it like a boxing match: You wouldn't send a 145-lb. welterweight into the ring against a 200-lb. heavy weight. The little guy just wouldn't stand a chance. The same goes for beer and food pairings: a full-bodied beer (something with an intense malt richness, like a Belgian Quadruple, or a punchy hop bitterness, like a double IPA) deserves a food pairing with equally heavyweight flavor—try a dense, rich chocolate cake (in the former case) or a pungent cheese, like Stilton or sharp cheddar (in the latter). On the other hand, certain flavors and qualities don't need to be matched, but instead contrasted for optimal enjoyment. An excellent example of this is the alchemy of pairing a fat-rich food with a crisp, tannic beverage. Think about the pairing of buttered popcorn and cola, or steak and red wine: the sharpness of an acidic drink cuts pleasantly through the richness of the fats and oils. When it comes to beer, consider an amber ale or a red ale, which brings the requisite tannic punch to brace the palate, while also matching the intensity of red meat, as noted above. As you delve deeper into the nuanced world of beer pairing, this simple conceptual orientation—matching vs. contrasting—will give you a base from which to explore.
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