Leah’s Beer School: Lesson 17

Beer & Food Pairing

With a growing number of craft beer delivery options and, for many of us, a bit of free time on our hands, we have the perfect opportunity to experiment with pairing beer and food. While we often consider wine and food together, beer actually offers incredible diversity in flavour, aroma, colour and texture, allowing for a plethora of pairing possibilities. 


Complementing relies on finding balance through similar flavours and aromas that work well together. Pairing a fruit beer with a fruit dish, like a witbier with oranges, brings out the orange and citrus flavours in the beer. Similarly, roasted pork pairs well with an Oktoberfest lager, where the sweetness of the meat is in perfect harmony with the caramelly flavours of the malt. If you’re looking for a good dessert option, imperial stouts and dark chocolate truffles are a perfect treat, where both are bittersweet, rich and fruity. 


Contrasting flavours are pairs of flavours that enhance each other through opposition. This type of integration relies on a balanced approach, ensuring that neither element is overly assertive. The main contrast elements to consider are sweetness, bitterness, carbonation, heat (spice), and richness. Oysters paired with a dry stout is a classic example of this type of combination. The salinity of the oysters diminishes the bitterness of the stout, which brings out some of the less dominant flavours in the beer. Alternatively, the toasty bitterness of the stout will highlight the sweetness and more subtle flavours in the oyster. 


Cutting refers to a beer’s ability to lift spicy or oily flavours, thanks to its carbonation and acidity. Beer can be used as a palate cleanser, and alternatively, food can help to cut through beer too, like fatty food reducing the bitterness of an IPA. Carbonation is effective in refreshing your palate with intense or rich foods. A mild sour can also brighten a dish as the acidity provides a good balance to fatty, salty and umami flavours. A tart beer pairs well with tangy, strong cheeses like blue and goat cheese, as well as fresh fruit. So, consider pairing something sour for your next charcuterie and cheese board. 

Match Strength with Strength

“Delicate dishes work best with delicate beer, strongly flavoured food demand assertive beers,” Randy Mosher states in Tasting Beer. According to Mosher, the element of matching strength with strength is an integral to creating successful pairings.  Intensity of flavour is not often found in one single element, but is more often a sum of different flavours. In beer, you may want to consider malt character, hop bitterness, alcoholic strength, sweetness, richness and so on. In food, this may include, richness, sweetness, spicing and cooking methods, such as roasting, grilling or frying. 

Complement & Contrast

The best pairings are those that complement AND contrast at the same time, allowing for all the best flavours to shine. Although, this sounds a bit daunting, it’s actually easier than you think. Going back to the Oktoberfest lager and roasted pork example, the sweet malt complements the sweetness of the pork, where the lager’s crisp finish also contrasts with and cuts through the rich fattiness of the meat. Pretty easy, right?

In the end, it all comes down to your own palette and personal preference – just as some people like their coffee black, and others will temper the bitterness with sugar or cream.  Have fun, play around with different pairings and be sure to take advantage of the amazing local craft beer delivery services available to you.