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How to pair food and beer - part one

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Nigel Sadler | 09:25 UK time, Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Food and beer matching is relatively new to many people. Real ale sales are increasing in pubs against big commercial lagers, showing an appetite for more complex flavours, but restaurants are still less likely to stock or to recommend beers to accompany their food. As a Beer Sommelier, it’s one of my jobs to promote beer as a complement to food. You’ll be amazed at how often a beer works better than a wine with certain dishes.



But where to start? Over a few posts, I want to guide you through some of the basics, introduce you to a few beer styles and the foods to pair with them.  And if you really get the bug then there are many courses for both complete novice and the aspiring Beer Sommelier and everyone in-between.

Often regarded as the poor relation to wine, beer is actually a very complex drink involving up to 12 ingredients. The principle components are: malts (that’s the sweet, part-germinated barley grains) which give both colour and flavour; wonderfully aromatic hops, the herbs and spices if you like; and finally, yeast and water, which also contribute to the flavour. All of these add differing depths and dimensions to the flavour of beer.  There are now over 130 recognised beer styles today- plenty of room to create some interesting flavour pairings.

Now we need to understand what we’re looking for in any food/drink pairing. The drink must enhance the food and vice versa.

How does that work exactly? Well you’re looking to complement, contrast or cut the various food flavours. These three “Cs” are what we will be looking to follow. Complementing uses a similar flavour or characteristic. Chinese stir-fries may be enhanced by ale with ginger or coriander flavours, while the chewy, dark crust of a pizza can be complemented by toasty, malty Pilsner style lager. 

Contrasting places the food and beer on opposite sides of the palate – and there are food combinations that translate directly into beer.  Seek out a good quality dark chocolate and enjoy with a glass of Belgian cherry kriek beer. The combination of flavours here is almost overwhelming: a nice take on the Black Forest gateau.

Finally cutting, principally down to carbonation levels, lifts and slices through rich dishes, in the way a Belgian golden ale can partner a creamy curry or a German Weissbier can cut through quiche or smoked fish.

The choice can seem overwhelming, but while you’re just getting started, treat blonde/golden beers and lagers as you would white wines and the darker, stronger bitters and porters as reds. Err on the lighter side for delicately flavoured dishes, and save the full-bodied beers for food that can handle the challenge.

In taking beer more seriously as part of a dining experience, one aspect that’s often overlooked is the use of different glassware. Think of the theatre and sense of occasion when we see the fantastic array of glasses used for serving Belgian beers. So next time why not use a stemmed wine glass for your beer and see for yourself how something so simple changes the perception of beer served with a meal.

Above all, have fun experimenting; there are no hard and fast rules!

Nigel Sadler is one of the country’s first Beer Academy Accredited Beer Sommeliers.

Listen to the You and Yours feature on Beer Sommeliers.


  • Comment number 1.

    how much does it cost for a meal?

  • Comment number 2.

    about 6p

  • Comment number 3.

    an answer as vauge as the question

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    My first experience of pairing beer with food (apart from lager with curry) was at the Hook Norton Brewery last year where we were given a talk on the subject. I never even considered having beer with cheese until they gave us their Flagship beer with a mature cheddar. No more port for me. A good IPA works equally. The good thing now is trying the many different beers. Hints and tips like the above should be welcomed.

  • Comment number 6.

    As for pairing wine with food, the real answer is 'drink what you like, not what some jumped up food blogger tells you to drink'.

    This article is merely promoting the writer's sense of self-worth and is as unnecessary as saying that you should drink white wine with fish.

  • Comment number 7.

    So strong flavoured beers with strong flavoured food? Glad to see my license fee isnt wasted, some really insightfull stuff here.

  • Comment number 8.

    One of the problems of drinking wine with cheese is that pickles will mar the taste of the wine. I think that beer wouldn't be affected in the same way by vinegar pickles?

  • Comment number 9.

    I am relatively new to beer. Growing up in the age of the all conquering lager. Any excuse to taste and experiment with new and different beers is good with me. Best of all "have fun experimenting; there are no hard and fast rules!"
    13:55 & 11:01 I feel are fans of Bitter. Please take the blog in the manner it was meant.

  • Comment number 10.

    I have long enjoyed drinking different beers with food. British beers are some of the most interesting and varied in the world: we should be justly proud of them. I keep about 20 different beers in the bottle at home and choose them according to my mood and what I am going to eat. I agree they are fine accompaniments to meals.

    The advantage of keeping a range of beers at home is you can buy whatever is on special offer in your local outlet and enjoy it later when the price is higher. And you have that wonderful thing, choice. In general I don't find much deterioration in the taste with storage in a cool place, and I find some of the live beers become stronger and clearer with age (don't shake the bottle, just as with wine!) - I keep beers for up to 2 years sometimes, and I rarely find the use by date relevant.

    But don't store beer if you can't resist drinking it immediately!

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    Whole TV shows are dedicated to wine sommeliers, and most of the advice given is a more eloquent and specific version of 'drink white wine with fish, red with red meat'.

    With a real decline in pub trade and traditional ales only beginning to regain favour it's nice to see that somebody is promoting the alternative. After all real ale is something that is often overlooked as a food accompaniment, yet brewers put just as much consideration into the flavour of their beer as a vineyard does for their wine.

    It seems only logical that some of these flavours will compliment dishes more appropriately than others - and I'm sure a beer sommelier would have more knowledge on this subject than the average layman (though of course the average layman is entitled to his own tastes and does not have to follow every piece of advice from every expert on every subject, or indeed any.)

    I look forward to hearing what the author says about some more unusual pairings - or even which beers to pair with food already containing wines or ales. Does a Steak and Guinness pie lend itself only to the most obvious of options, and can Coq au Vin be uplifted and enjoyed with something other than another glass of vin?

    The idea of cherry beer with dark chocolate sounds fantastic to me - and definitely something I would not have considered before reading this article.

  • Comment number 13.

    Great to see the BBC embracing great beer, it's a wonderful, varied topic not to mention a big part of our national food & drink heritage.

    @teacherliv depends on your vin! Not being fascetious but if it's a big full-bodied bold red then perhaps a barley-wine style or old ale or if it's a lighter, fruitier number then a good ESB/Best Bitter or ruby ale would be a good way to go in my opinion - but experiment away!

    @cooksalot the vinegar conundrum with beer is an interesting one, you can have problems but it's normally when it meets hot chips and it permeates your entire palate, with well-balanced chutneys it's not generally a problem, in fact the fruity notes in many beers help complement the chutney and vice versa.

    @rob111 I think it's more than a little harsh to call Nigel a jumped-up food blogger and if you don't wish to take his advice then don't, resorting to insults seems unnecessary.

    @Magellan part one, a nice gentle intro, perhaps giving the series of articles time to unfold and then, if you're unhappy, comment would be a more measured approach?

  • Comment number 14.

    My comment was a result of being fed up with the number of 'food experts' who appear and seem to have no qualifications other than foisting their opinions on the population of the Internet (and the Good Food channel) - I accept I am guilty of doing the very same thing, though I'm not pretending to be educating people, just commenting about those who are.

    All in all, the author does seem to be just one more food & drink pundit saying nothing of real worth.

  • Comment number 15.

    Thanks for this inspirational blog and as an ageing beer enthusiast, (which of you remembers Richard Boston in the Guardian?), I will certainly experiment with the idea. Only concern I have is bulk! it isn't too good for the gut to take on too much liquid with a meal; especially where foods like rice are concerned. A couple of glasses of wine isn't so bad but beer in cutomary quantities might upset the delicate balance of my battle sore digestion.

  • Comment number 16.

    Guiness and Dairy Milk go brilliantly together!

  • Comment number 17.

    Strange how, whenever someone sets themselves up as an expert, all sense of national pride seems to disappear and foreign products are recommended first. I can't knock the ideas in this item... but "Pilsner", "Belgian", "German Weissbier"...? Whatever happened to IPA, bitter, mild, brown etc etc?
    We have in this country some of the greatest brewers in the world, brewing a vast range of stunning ales..... try those with your food here first then perhaps drink Weissbier when in Berlin.......

  • Comment number 18.

    As a new brewer. taking beer with food as opposed to wine is something that had not occured to me. other than with cold meat and pickles. But being a beer lover, it makes sence.
    This blog is certainly an eye opener. it's one I shall be following.

  • Comment number 19.

    One of my greatest experiences was a beer dinner at Le Gavroche. A wine glass of a different beer with each course. Not too much volume. Not too much alcohol. And a sensory feast. Great that there are now more Beer Sommeliers to allow more people to learn about the joy of beer and food.

  • Comment number 20.

    We just held a competition event at Niagara College where our students chefs created a menu to which our winery and brewery students paired a wine and beer with each course, an amazing side by side demonstration of how beers and wines can compliment a meal.
    6 courses ended in a 3 all tie ! Wine won on a tally of individual votes. So succesful we are holding another event next month


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