With craft beer’s meteoric rise in popularity in recent years, chances are you’re going to come across the product of a microbrewery at some point. However, many of us are stuck wondering the same thing: What goes with craft beer? Part of the appeal of small-batch brews lies in their diversity; smaller, local breweries are known to experiment more than the big names. Unfortunately, with thousands of microbreweries operating in the United States today, the range of choices that make craft beers so popular can make it difficult to figure out what to pair with your drink.
Of course, it’s absolutely possible to enjoy a pint without worrying about pairing it with the “right” food or serving it in the “right” glass. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, you’re free to drink beer however you want — it’s practically written into the Constitution, or at least heavily implied. That being said, some beers just taste better with food, and there are all kinds of ways to enhance the experience.
First of all, it’s important to know what you’re drinking. Beer is divided into four types: Ales, lagers, stouts and porters, and malts. These categories can be further broken down into styles such as light, dark, amber, India pale ale, and many more. Much like wine, the kind of beer influences how you serve it; for instance, pale lagers are often served relatively cold, in a Pilsner glass. In contrast, ales are generally served in mugs at a warmer temperature.
Once you’ve gotten an idea of how to serve a beer, you get to the fun part, aka pairing it with food. According to Fix.com, there are four things to keep in mind when figuring out what to serve with a beer: Intensity, taste, mouthfeel, and flavor. First of all, try to keep to the same intensity of flavor when picking out a menu; heavier stouts go better with a hamburger than a salad, and so on. The same goes for flavor (which isn’t the same thing as taste, by the way) — try to pair beers with the foods they evoke.
Taste and mouthfeel are a little more complicated. Try to use beer as a way to balance the taste of dishes, like pairing a bitter stout with something a little more sweet. Similarly, it’s suggested to contrast mouthfeels between beer and food; for instance, pair a sour beer with something heavy.
Now that you’ve gotten your crash course in beer-pairing, go forth and try it out! Just remember that these are guidelines; if you like IPAs with your dark chocolate or caramel-flavored beer with spaghetti, that’s totally up to you.