Your Super Simple Beer Pairing Guide

Curious how to pair a cold brew with your favorite food? Read on.

Beer flight and smoked meatsShutterstock / Jason Little
Shutterstock / Jason Little

Think wine rules the roost when it comes to food and drink pairings? Think again. With its many styles and flavors, beer usually does the trick when you’re staring down a scrumptious block-party spread. With Oktoberfest just around the corner, we offer some things to consider when choosing food-and-beer combos, plus a few beers you’ll want to get to know.

Quick and Dirty Pairing Tips

You can go in-depth with food and drink pairings. But to keep it simple, remember:

  • Pair lighter beers with lighter dishes. Do the same with bold ales and heavier fare.

  • The hoppier a beer, the better match it is for rich foods.

  • Look for complementary flavors. Citrus with citrus, sweet with sweet, spice with spice, etc.

  • Or, try a contrast. Salty and sweet is a winning combination.

The Popular One: Pilsner

This beer variety originally came out of Bohemia in the Austrian Empire (now the Czech Republic). It is one of the most copied styles of beer in the world, from Germany to Tennessee, and there are regional spins on Pilsner, as well. Light with refreshing carbonation and a delicate hop flavor, Pilsner is ultra-versatile. It’s fantastic with savory-salty dishes such as sushi and holds up beautifully to the spice you’ll encounter in certain Thai or Mexican meals.

Undoubtedly Delish: Stout

Dark, rich and full of roasted malt, stouts were made for anything coming off the grill. These are bold beers that pair especially well with game meats. There are several variations of stout:

  • Oatmeal: Flavored with oats.

  • Milk: It doesn’t actually contain milk, but sugar lactose gives it a creamy, sweet profile.

  • Chocolate: Despite the name, there’s no chocolate in this variety. But chocolate stouts do have a similar flavor to our favorite treat.

For Hop Lovers: India Pale Ale (IPA):

IPAs have had their moment in the sun since the craft beer movement exploded onto the scene about a decade ago. These hoppy beers belong to the pale ale family and have actually been around since the mid-1800s. Today, IPAs are arguably the most hop-driven style of beer on the market. They’re characterized by citrus, pine, earth and floral aromas. And bitterness. Plenty of bitterness. Once more, a savory-salty combo is the ticket here. Think bratwurst with a side of spicy mustard—or burgers, of course. You might also consider serving IPA with a curry or even dessert. Skeptical? Try one with this Chocolate-Drizzled Gingerbread and see for yourself. Find the best IPA for you in our ranking!

Wheat: Treat Them Like White Wine

These unfiltered, hazy ales are brilliant food beers. The most famous and widely available wheat beer, hefeweizen is a classic. Super-carbonated, fruity and citrusy with a hint of clove, hefes are superb with veal chops or a perfectly roasted chicken. You can also enjoy one with scallops or a decadent lobster dinner.

A Belgian-style witbier is preferable for more standard fish fare. Belgian wheats are much more citrus- and spice-heavy, while also being a touch lighter on the tongue, which makes them a perfect fit for seafood.

Fruit: Fantastic

In need of something a little different? Try a fruit beer, which you’ll find under the name “lambic.” These part-sour, part-sweet beers are perfect if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path or aren’t keen on the bitterness found in other beer styles. They’re a nice complement to savory dishes with a fruit component. Drink a kriek (cherry lambic) with this Cherry Balsamic Pork Loin or a fruit dessert.

Other Styles & Pairings:

Ready for more? Try these other beer styles with the following pairings:

  • Amber ale: Malty with a medium caramel flavor. Pair with barbecue.

  • Saison: Spicy, fruity and well-balanced. Try with poultry, fish or salads.

  • Smoked beer: Smoky, malty, slightly sweet. Enjoy with anything grilled or smoked, of course!

  • Bock: Malt, toast, mild caramel, full body. Drink this with sausages, pork chops or a nice cut of steak.

  • Kolsch: Fruit, bread and citrus. Similar to Pilsner. Sausages, fried foods and mushroom dishes like these Risotto-Stuffed Portobellos are all fantastic pairings.
  • Gose: Sour, citrus and slightly salty. This sour beer goes great with fatty meats like pork belly, citrus-laden dishes like ceviche and anything with a hint of sweetness.

  • Red ale: Caramel, tea, malt and toffee. Delicious with nuts, game meats and root vegetables.

Still not sure about the right beer pairing? As with wine, regional pairings are typically a safe bet, especially if you’re dining at home and have control over what gets bought. Don’t be afraid to experiment—sometimes that is how the best pairings are discovered.

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Camille Berry
Part of the third generation in a family of restaurateurs, Camille was born with a passion for cooking and food. She embarked on a career in hospitality where she excelled as a sommelier and wine director. This hospitality experience has given her a wealth of first-hand knowledge about how to pair all manner of drinks with food—plus some serious kitchen skills. These days, she's hung up her wine key in favor of a pen and covers all aspects of food and drink.