Tips for the Craft Beer Cicerone

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As craft beer continues to increase in popularity, consumers want to raise a glass (or more depending on the number of courses) during dinner. They’re interested in artisan beers with more flavor, seasonal variation and style, which craft beer provides.

Pairing beer with food is similar to pairing wine but beer offers a wider range of flavors to work with. A stout can taste like chocolate or coffee, and a Belgian ale, specifically lambic or fruit ales, can taste like cherries or raspberries.

There are two main kinds of beer: lagers and ales. Some liken lagers to white wine (crisp and delicate) and ales to red wine (robust and fruity).

One of beer’s most powerful flavors is from the caramelization process. That’s why porter matches up nicely with a beef roast or grilled pork dish because the roasted malts are bold enough to stand up to the protein.

Just like how lighter fare is served before heavier dishes, the same principle applies to beer. A lighter beer, like a lager, goes well with shellfish. A beer with roasted character usually fares well with desserts, and a chocolate tart sings when paired up with an espresso imperial stout.

The carbonation in beer sharpens bitterness and cleanses the palate. It also gives beer cutting power against fats. Hops also provide cutting power; an India Pale Ale (IPA) pairs perfectly with a rich fettuccine Alfredo.

Contrasting a dish to beer can elevate the flavor and ensure balance. If the dish is spicy, using a high alcohol beer will only amplify the heat and send the diner for water, which will also extinguish the flavor of the food!

There are no hard and fast rules – think of pairing beer with food as an art form. The key is to find harmony and balance. Beer is more forgiving than wine and rarely will a pairing be truly disastrous. Identify the characteristics of the beer (intensity and flavors) to successfully play matchmaker with food. Keep it simple and you will be guaranteed a dynamic duo most of the time.