Summer is in full swing, and the Capital Region was never so appreciative! We always greet the sun and warmth with the respect such a season deserves: drinking and merriment. Graduation parties, a sprinkling of birthdays, Memorial, Labor and Independence Day parties all dot our calendars as well as the impromptu gatherings in the backyard with a grill and a case of beer. While it’s tempting to just grab a case of whatever and head out in the sun, I would recommend taking a moment to think what this beer will be “paired” with. Are you heading to a barbeque where ribs, braised pork and burgers are going to be the main course? Or maybe you’re planning on a light, classy picnic with a healthy summer salad and wanted to pick up a little refreshment. While I will never criticize anyone for bringing any beer to any event, there are a few tricks to matching your food with the perfect beer that can help guide your hand next time you’re in charge of picking up beer.
There are four general rules for pairing food and beer. The rules to keep in mind are to match intensities, pair similar flavors, pair contrasting flavors and cutting. While, obviously, you cannot often follow all four at once, as pairing similar flavors and contrasting flavors at the same time can prove difficult, following two to three will really help make your food and drink shine together in ways they would not have been able to alone.
The first rule is matching intensity. Intensity in beer is determined by the beer’s body and flavor. When tasting beer, appearance, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel are the four main things beer drinkers look and taste for. Beer intensity comes from the type of malt, the hops used, the body, and the flavor profile of the beer. While intense beers are great, they threaten to overpower the palate when paired with lighter fair. Matching intensities with food and drink ensure a balance so that one flavor profile doesn’t dominate your meal.
The second general rule is similarity. Matching similar flavors in the beer and food help bring out those flavors in each other. I like how James Cury, who wrote a blog on epicurious, put it when he said that similar flavors make great pairings as the similar flavors offer a “pleasant echo” as “notes in one sip evoke flavors in past or future bites.” Similar flavors often help to bring out delicate flavors within dishes and is an important rule to remember when pairing lighter fares.
The third rule is contrasting flavors. Pairing contrasting flavors in beer and food can often compliment each other better than pairing only like flavors. Similar to how peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or sweet and spicy meatballs play off contrasts within the food, contrasting flavors in food and drink often make the flavor profile of the pairing more complex. However, remembering the first general rule, if you go to two different contrasting extremes, they may not always pair the best.
The fourth and final rule is cutting. Cutting is what happens when the beer or food helps soften the harsher flavors of either the beer or food. Cutting often continues what contrasting flavors do by curbing the extremes of the dish and the drink. Likewise cutting helps to cleanse one’s palate which ensures that every bite of food is as flavorful as possible.
Finally, while these four general rules are useful to introduce you to food and beer pairings, everyone’s palate is different. The best part of learning to pair food and beer is the “research.” If you want to get good, you have to do your homework. This means eating food and drinking a beer with it. Likewise, it’s almost impossible to mess up. Schuyler Schultz in Beer, Food, and Flavor, stated it best when he said: “There will always be a place for a huge cup of lager alongside a hot dog at the ballpark, a frosted mug with a slice of pizza, or simply a bottle of whatever’s in the cooler at the neighborhood barbecue." Beer and food are an age old combination. And, I’m tempted to say that as long as you’re surrounded by good company, good food, and good beer, you can’t go wrong whatever you happen to be eating and drinking.
That being said, if you want some suggestions for pairing summer beers with some classic summer foods, take a moment to skim over some of my favorite food pairings, and be sure to let me know if you have any that you either know about or discovered for yourself after reading. Enjoy!
Long Trail Ale
and a grilled cheeseburger (or hotdog). The cheeseburger is an absolute summer classic and a staple in nearly every summer party. The difficulty of pairing a cheeseburger with a beer is that the greasy cheesy goodness of the burger threatens to over power the flavor profile of a lighter beer. Long Trail Ale, though, has enough intensity to match the intense flavors of a grilled burger, all while taking advantage of the hops and carbonation to cut through the grease and cleanse the palate. Likewise, toasting the bun would help pair the malted grain of the Long Trail with the toasted bun. Other beers that would pair well with a grilled burger are Pabst American Pale Ale
, Yuengling Lager
and Brown’s Coast to Coast IPA
21st Amendment El Sully
paired with a shrimp kebab. While burgers and hotdogs often take center stage for summer grilling, kebabs are versatile and an often underrated star of the grill. Moreover, a simple seasoning of olive oil, red pepper flakes, cumin, lime juice, salt, and pepper drizzled over shrimp, peppers, and onions provide a great pairing for an El Sully. The light flavor of the El Sully would work to cleanse the palate of the heat from the cumin and red pepper, all while bringing out the saltiness and sweetness of the shrimp. Likewise, the cleansed palate would make one’s mouth more receptive to the next spice filled bite. The crispness from the El Sully complements the spicier shrimp perfectly cutting the harshness of it and opening your palate to more of the subtleties of the dish. Furthermore, if you drink the El Sully with a lime, then the lime will help bring out the flavor of the lime juice on the shrimp. Lastly, the El Sully has a lighter intensity, so as not to overpower the kebab. Other beers that would work well with this pairing are Corona Premier
and Ballast Point Mango Even Keel
If you want to steer away from the intense flavors of the grill, and maybe opt for something a bit healthier, a nice summer salad with a raspberry lemon vinaigrette would pair well with a UFO R.A.Z
. The lighter R.A.Z. wouldn’t overwhelm the lighter flavors in the salad. Likewise, The raspberry flavor of the beer would help bring out and echo the raspberry flavor in the vinaigrette. Other beers to try with this would be Long Trail Blackbeary Wheat
or Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat
Steve Pendergast is a beer and food enthusiast. After going to school in Albany, he's split his time between drinking beer and writing about it. He's always searching for a new craft beer to try, and loves finding the local brewpub to immerse himself in the unique taste that each town develops. When he's not writing or reading, you can be sure to find him sitting by a campfire with a bottle of Green Blaze in hand or hiking whatever mountains are close at hand.