The best way to pair the right beer with your dishes is to be familiar with the different types of beers that exist and how certain qualities of those overall categories (and the individual flavors that make each brand unique) interact with the flavors in food. While there are too many varieties of beer to cover in a single article, these tried-and-true favorites will get you started.
There are three types of beers. Most Americans are familiar with the lager, which is typically crisper and cleaner in flavor. Ales, on the other hand, have more robust, complex flavors, and are usually fruity or spicy.
The less common Lambic beers are quick-fermented and often have sour, bright or unique flavors -- some rookies may find these off-putting and others will prefer them to more traditional beers.
This wild-flavored brew is like Champagne in that a true Lambic is brewed only in the Pajottenland region of Belgium, though you may find Lambic-style beers from other areas.
A pilsner is a pale lager with a clean, refreshing finish. Most of the beer commercials you'll see during the Super Bowl will be for pilsner-style beers. Pilsners pair well with roasted meat, chicken and fish (but not sushi). It's also an excellent complement to spicy foods.
Examples: Pilsner Urquell, Stella Artois, Staropramen
Bocks, which are separated into several categories, some of which are lighter than others, are lagers with heavy flavors and are quite filling on their own.
In fact, legend has it that monks used to brew these beers to sustain themselves through long fasts. As such, you might think they're un-pairable, however this beer can be paired with heavier flavors, especially appetizers made with pork or game.
Examples: Spaten Premium Bock, Amstel Bock, Shiner Bock
Wheat beers are ales. Wheat, in and of itself, doesn't add much flavor to the beer. Instead, the brewmaster adds additional flavors, often fruits, which give the wheat beer a crisp flavor and smooth finish. Wheat beers are extremely flexible, as they come in a variety of flavors. Traditional Bavarian hefeweizens, for example, have flavors of banana and clove. Many American wheat beers are flavored with citrus. Traditionally considered summer beers, many breweries are now producing fall and winter versions featuring favorite cold-weather spices, like clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Examples: Blue Moon (almost any variety), Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat, New Belgium Mothership Wit
Dark ales come in two categories: porters and stouts. Porters have a rich flavor that ranges from a subtle malt to fully roasted. Porters pair well with heavily flavored foods, like steak or game.
Examples: Anchor Porter, Fuller's London Porter, Boulevard's Bully Porter
Stouts are almost black in color and may have a variety of roasted flavor profiles, including chocolate, coffee, milk, oatmeal and even oyster! They can seem tricky to pair, but are actually quite versatile. Stouts are generally best when paired with heavier meats, but because they're often silky and creamy, some also pair well with chocolaty or creamy desserts.
Examples: Guinness, Young's Double Chocolate Stout, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
Much like a fine wine, a high-quality beer, especially the ones offered by microbreweries, are carefully crafted by well-trained experts called brewmasters. No matter what style of beer you find, some may have hints of vanilla or orange, while others have spicy flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Before you settle on a particular brand, buy a bottle or go to a bar or restaurant that serves it. Taste it carefully to identify the individual notes that make it unique and ask yourself what type of food it will complement.
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