It’s November now. Still technically fall, but winter is creeping up. The best part of this month (and arguably the best day of the year) is Thanksgiving. In my family, everyone is expected to bring a dish to the big dinner. Sadly I don’t possess the skills and patience to cook, and have given up trying to participate in the annual “who brings the best side dish” competition. Instead, I bring the alcohol. My family has trusted me for years now to be the one who shows up with beer on thanksgiving and bourbon eggnog on Christmas Eve. Getting grandpa to try new beer styles is always fun.
Pairing beer with food is easier than most people think. Like anything else, the best way to get good at pairing is by experimenting and practicing with different beers, but there are a few simple rules that will help you pair beers with your favorite dishes successfully.
First, the intensity of the beer should match intensity of the dish. Light, crisp beers go with light foods like fruit salad and sushi. Heavy, rich beers go well with heavy, rich foods like BBQ ribs and chocolate cake. A light beer will be drowned out by a heavy dish, and vice versa.
After taking the intensities into consideration, think about common flavors. I don’t mean pairing a pumpkin beer with a pumpkin pie, but beer can exhibit an incredible range of flavors and aromas that also exist in food. Citrusy hops, roasted malts, and fruity yeasts are a few flavors that can match flavors in foods.
If you’re having trouble matching flavor notes, consider embracing contrasting elements that complement one another. High alcohol, carbonation, and bitterness in beer will balance out sweet or fatty dishes. Sweetness in beer can balance out spicy foods. Beer and food can work together as well as classic combinations like peanut butter and jelly or hot wings and bleu cheese—use your imagination!
Thanksgiving food has a huge range of flavors and spices. For mild sides like mashed potatoes and stuffing, try pairing an American Pilsner or German Lager. The delicate hops won’t overpower the food and the carbonation will balance out the butter and gravy. Veggies like green beans go well with Belgian Saisons, which are light and spicy and often have peppery flavors. The turkey could go with a lot of different styles. Consider the spices used and the cooking method when deciding. Heavier dishes like rice pilaf, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato casserole go better with more flavorful beers like porters and browns. Save the stouts for dessert—they can finish off the meal alone or pair well with sweets.
Remember, pairing food and beer is not an exact science and they are no wrong answers. When you find a combination you like, roll with it! It’s all about trying new things and having fun.