Tips on pairing beer and food

A glass of beer on eatlivetravelwrite.comFood and beer pairing, you say? Why yes – don’t let your wine snob friends say it only applies to their drink of choice. 😉

In fact, there’s just as much complexity in the beer world as in the wine world. Many aficionados would even say that beers offer a more natural set of food pairing choices. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but I do agree that pairing beer with food is under-appreciated. (Or at least, outside northern Europe.)

Recently I was at the launch of Mirella Amato’s new book, “Beerology”. For anyone with either a passing interest in beer, or wanting to delve in more deeply – I highly recommend this book. I’ve seen Mirella many times over the years at seminars and events, and her charm, humour – and expertise – come through in the book. There’s a lot of detail for beer geeks, but it’s all presented in an easy-going style that does not intimidate the novice. If you’re a knowledgeable wine drinker and want to understand a bit more of what goes on “on the other side”, this is a great place to start.

As with wine, flavours can complement or contrast with food. Both offer differing approaches in pairing. Mirella also speaks of a third, where the flavours “are in a dance”, bouncing back and forth. Then there’s the elusive “new flavour” that’s created by the marriage of the two. As you can see – much similarity to wine.

Many people know the basics of food & wine pairing, but where to begin with food & beer pairing? Well, not surprisingly, some of the principles remain the same. Herewith a few tips for making your selections.

Tips for pairing beer with food

1. Consider regionality

A fail-safe with wine, don’t forget with beer. It shouldn’t surprise that a nice German Pilsner fares well with bratwurst, or that a Belgian witbier pairs beautifully with a bowl of steamed mussels. Caution required, though: it’s a bit trickier than wine, especially in places like North America and Australia where anything goes, in terms of today’s brewer’s. (And food styles!)

2. Don’t forget the sauces, seasoning and spices

Don’t just think about the protein – think about the sauce. That’s more important than the protein: what’s the dominant flavour? So those light sauces will generally want a lighter beer. Lagers tend more to cereal, bread and citrus flavours, darker ales to mocha and coffee. Think of that in terms of the seasoning on your dishes. Of course, there’s no reason you cannot pair a different beer with each dish in a menu. Which leads nicely to…

3. How heavy is your dish?

This isn’t as fail-safe, but works well. Lighter dishes will often be overwhelmed by a heavier beer. While a nice Porter goes well with that burger, or a Rauchbier is perfect with grilled ribs…both will likely be heavy for sautéed chicken breasts. As with wines, a weight progression throughout a meal (lighter to heavier) is ideal for the palate. This is actually the way a meal itself progresses, so works logically. And yes – there are some perfect matches for desserts. If you haven’t yet tried a kriek lambic with that black forest cake…you’re in for a treat.

4. How much hops is there?

The hoppier a beer, the better it pairs with spicy food. Think India Pale Ale or American style IPA – the latter have tended to very hoppy styles the last years. As heavy hops are not for everyone, don’t feel you need to get one ridiculously high. But they’ll work better than a light lager. Not sure about hops level? The technical measurement is “IBUs” – International Bitterness Units. Some craft beers now list on the label. Anything over 30 starts to get into the hoppy realm…above 50 is serious bitterness. Or ask your bottle shop expert.

As with wine, never fear experimenting! You’ll find some surprises (stout with oysters, anyone?), and have fun along the way. But as with wine, the only expert is you: there’s no point drinking a beer you don’t enjoy just because someone tells you it “matches” with a dish.

Happy quaffing!

Beerology Book cover


Purchase Beerology for yourselves on Amazon or Amazon Canada. Or for free worldwide shipping, buy from The Book Depository.


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Disclosure: We were provided with a copy of “Beerology” for review purposes. We were also guests of Random House Canada at the book launch/ beer and cheese pairing. We were not asked to write about either the book or the launch, nor are we being compensated for doing do. All opinions 100% our own.

* a version of this article first appeared on eat. live. travel. write.
** Photography in this post by Mardi Michels.


Wine tasting tips for everyone!

Tasting wine and taking notes on eatlivetravelwrite.comI’m often asked about my best tips for wine tasting. Use these when you’re next at a food & wine show, visiting a winery, or just having friends over and want to have fun exploring a new bottle or two.

Wine tasting tips on

Tips for tasting wine

1. Don’t Wear Perfume/Cologne

Okay this might seem a stuffy tip – but honestly, you’ll never be able to discern the aromas in the glass if you’re doused in Chanel No. 5 or Polo Homme. Go easy – or better yet avoid altogether – and other people will very much appreciate it, as will winery and show staff.

2. Relax

Unless you’re a professional, or aiming to be one, tasting is for fun. (And even the professionals let their hair down when not “working” – remember most of them got into wine because they liked it.) Don’t get stressed trying to find six aromas or a dozen distinct flavours. Make it a mystery, and just think how different the wines are. You’ll learn by osmosis – trust me.

3. White to Red, Light to Heavy, Dry to Sweet.

Not always easiest if you’re going to a big show, but generally that’s the best way to save your palate. Jumping from a Sauvignon Blanc to Shiraz and then to a Muscadet and then Pinot Noir will confuse your taste buds to no end, and dull them to boot. Progressing this way also means you can avoid rinsing your glass, which is really not required at this level until you dramatically change colours/styles/sugar levels.

4. Sight, Smell, Taste.

Three simple steps to tasting a wine. Before you down that glass (see next point…), take a quick minute and look at the colour. You’ll be amazed how many shades of “light yellow” or “dark red” there really are; it’s an early clue to what’s about to follow. Then give the glass a swirl and dip your nose in. Don’t be shy – go ahead and stick it right in there and take a deep breath. What do you smell? It’s absolutely fine if you say “grapes” – don’t let anyone give you a hard time! But, as you keep trying wines, have a little fun thinking what else you might notice. There could be a LOT going on: flowers (what kind?), fruits (pit, citrus, tropical?), herbs (fresh, dried?), spices (pepper, nutmeg) and more. Finally, what you’ve been waiting for: taste it. No need to make those embarrassing aerating noises…just have a sip, and hold it in your mouth for half a second before swallowing. Did it surprise you? Does it “taste” like it “smells”? Something else going on? Most importantly – did you like it?

5. Spit

Probably the only time it will be socially acceptable. Essential if you’re driving from winery to winery – they will always have a tasteful spittoon handy; if you can’t see one, just ask. But even if you’re not driving, if you’re planning on exploring many wines, it’s generally a good idea. That leaves room for the ones you really love. 😉

Neil Phillips tasting wine on eatlivetravelwrite.comThere are no incorrect answers here: it’s all about you enjoying the wine, and exploring new flavours. Just as with cooking, you’ll learn what you like, and what’s not your favourite. Drink and eat what you like. If you find a wine you like, write the name and details down, and staff at a good wine shop should be able to help you find something similar, at the same price point or high-end examples for a splurge.

Pouring wine on eatlivetravelwrite.comAnd what do you do when you bring home a wine you’ve fallen in love with, and have no idea what to pair it with? Well that’s another article entirely, but a simple tip is most wines will go with foods from the same region. Admittedly, this works more with the classical old-world wine regions.

Top tips for wine tasting on eatlivetravelwrite.comMost importantly of all, never forget that the best wine is the one you enjoy, with friends. Happy Drinking!

* a version of this article first appeared on eat. live. travel. write.
** Photography in this post by Mardi Michels.