We’re big fans of the relatively recent practice of pairing beer and food, which has been catching on around South Africa.
While wine has traditionally been considered the perfect partner to a meal, we’d like to shatter that misconception and proclaim that beer is, in fact, the soul mate.
Beer and food pairing is mostly about balancing flavours and mouth feel. Well crafted beers have sophisticated, layered flavours which can really be teased out with a good food pairing. Pairings can contrast, highlighting flavours, or complement to form one easily identifiable flavour profile.
Here are some guidelines for matching the two.
1. Carbonation: the palate cleanser
The bubbles in beer act as a palate cleanser, awakening the tastebuds to the next forkful of taste. While some complain that the CO2 makes beer too filling, it is in fact these bubbles that give beer the advantage over wine. More highly carbonated beers – especially German or Belgian wheat beers – marry well with mouth-coating morsels such as creamy cheese.
Highly carbonated beers make great palate cleansers before a meal.
2. Match intensity
The perceived “weight” of the beer should match the robustness or delicateness of the food you’re pairing with, just as with wine and food. You probably wouldn’t pair a delicate Belgian witbier, with a hunk of grilled steak, just as you wouldn’t pair the steak with a light Chenin blanc. Sauces also influence the flavours, so remember to consider them too.
Try it: Pair the dark, rich taste of a Porter with a hunk of marinaded steak.
3. Match aroma and flavour
The two main flavours you’ll experience in a beer are hops and malt.
Since malt is the source of sugar in beer it can add a sweetness – real or perceived – to your drink. Match this underlying sweetness with a similarly sweetened dish, such as a teriyaki dish or a savoury dish featuring dried fruit. Malt also offers caramelised flavours so look out for them and pair with roast dinners or meat cooked on the braai.
Try it: Pair a medium bodied, easy drinking Brown Ale with the a teriyaki chicken dish.
Despite the bitterness of hops, they can still be paired very well with food. In fact, hops provide the perfect backbone for all that malt. The sheer range of beer styles opens up a host of pairing opportunities. Think of hops as a spice in beer. It then makes sense to pair hoppy beers with spicy food such as Indian curries or Mexican dishes. Hops also help cut through the fat, particularly in rich, creamy dishes.
Try it: Pair a hoppy American Pale Ale with a sweet and saucy barbequed pork belly.
4. Your personal taste
In the end, it really boils down to personal taste – so be open to playing around and finding the combinations you enjoy best! Why not buy a range of beers and cook up a few dishes with your friends to taste test for yourselves?
Don’t be scared to break the “rules” and experiment.