If you're at a fancy restaurant and want to order a nice wine to pair with your entree, you consult the sommelier. But what if you want a beer instead? It might not enjoy the high status that wine has in the culinary world, but it can be remarkably food-friendly if you know how different styles interact with other flavors. Learning how to pair beer with a meal can bring out the best in both.
Malt-heavy with a dry finish, red ales tend to pair best with savory meat dishes that pack lots of flavor. Grilled, roasted, and smoked meats usually work well. But avoid serving red ale alongside particularly spicy dishes -- Mexican, Thai, Indian -- as they might overwhelm the beer.
Belgian white beers are a bit more complex than American wheats, featuring hints of fruit and spice. They're especially good alongside light seafood dishes, like steamed mussels, and they tend to complement foods with citrus and herb flavors. For a quick and easy pairing, throw together a fresh fruit salad.
Favoring malted wheat in place of malted barley, hefeweizens have a relatively sweet profile that complements the salinity of richer seafood and pork dishes. Fried veal, roasted pork, and smoked salmon all work well with these brews. For a classic southern German breakfast, pair a hefeweizen with weisswurst (white sausage) and pretzels.
Creamy and powerful, stouts complement intensely flavorful dishes: roast lamb, prime rib, and stews. The subtle chocolatey flavor is also a particularly good contrast to salty dishes, most famously oysters. With hints of chocolate and coffee, stouts can also accompany sweet dishes like German chocolate cake.
Slightly lighter than stouts, porters have a toasty, caramel-tasting profile that goes well with heavy dishes -- particularly the charred flavors of barbecued meat. Like stouts, porters also complement seafood dishes such as oysters, crab, and blackened fish. Some porters contain chocolate, meaning they can be served alongside chocolate cake, or as dessert themselves.
Lagers cleanse the palate without overpowering the food, making them great companions for garlic-heavy meals. Crisp and refreshing, a lager can bring out the flavors of lighter dishes like salads or spring rolls. When in doubt, remember that lagers tend to complement food made with lemongrass, ginger, cilantro, and garlic.
Less overwhelming than India pale ales, American pale ales are extremely versatile. They pair well with sandwiches, pizza, and spicier dishes like Mexican and Thai food. A good rule of thumb: If you're unsure which beer to order with your meal and want something a bit more complex than a lager, go for a pale ale.
With a wide range of flavors -- malty, hoppy, toasty -- brown ales can be paired with anything from sushi to barbecue. Brown ales are not as popular as some of the other styles on this list, but beer lovers might be open to trying something new when they realize how many dishes can be paired with this surprisingly complex variety.
These soft, crisp beers are best paired with very light dishes -- salads, fruit, sushi. The unimposing flavor of wheat ale doesn't overwhelm most foods, but that means it might be unable to cut through the flavors of stronger dishes.