In combination with different meals and food, beer sometimes becomes an accent that highlights not only its best properties, but the properties of the food as well. Poor choice of beer can ruin a great meal, and vice versa. For beer to be not only a thirst-quenching drink but also a great dinner companion, one should think about what kind of food will be eaten, and follow the existing combination rules.
The most important rule that you should learn already today is to discover the dominant flavours of the two components (food and beer). Combination of beer with food pursuits one of the two objectives: to offset (contrast) or supplement (highlight) the taste of the meal. Beer body, intensity and alcohol content are the most important things in beer. Beer and food should be of a similar intensity – beer body needs to be strong enough as faint light beer will be overshadowed by food. Natural bubbles in beer also have implications for combining beer to food, as they prevent you from slumbering, and being bored with the similarity of tastes. With heavy and hearty meals and very sweet desserts, bubbles can “lighten” the heaviness of meals a bit. The scent of fruit, various spices, other cereals, coffee or even the wood of barrels can also change the texture and taste of beer, directing it closer, or, on the contrary, steering it away from being a good match to some dishes.
If you want to complement flavours, you want to be looking for similar flavour notes in both food and beer. Light snacks are good with a milder taste, lighter beer while spicier or heavier dishes go better with heavier beers. Once you discover the main flavouring accent of the dish, combine the style of beer type, i.e. lush porter, Belgian dübel or imperial stout are perfect to top your chocolate dessert. Alternatively, you can take the earthly and subtle spicy saison beer and combine it with spicy salads. This way, tastes will reinforce one another.
Sometimes the rich flavour of dishes can interfere with full bodied beer, therefore you have to combine them in such a way that beer taste defeats a very strong taste of dishes. A great example are pungent chilli peppers, counteracting the bitterness of hops. Chocolate milk stout will soothe the heat of peppers in the same way as milk suppresses tannins in tea. Hefeweizen with its full body and fruitiness might have the same effect as well as a bit of bitterness. Another example, smoked oily fish, savoury dishes, strong flavours of cheeses, and very salty dishes – with dishes of such a strong flavour, lighter beer can revive the palate, instead of the equally heavyweight beer competing with the strong flavour of food. Try to choose from pilsner or saison, or the bitterness, to “penetrate” through the fat contents of your meal. However, excessive bitterness should also be avoided because it will overshadow the food. Very bitter beer is best with salty snacks. This principle of combination means that the tastes of food and beer must be in balance, you should not allow them to compete.
Seasons and geographical aspects are equally important. This is, by the way, a good tip for beginners: in summer it is a good practice to use both lighter dishes, as well as lighter beer, and in winter to prefer rich flavours and hearty food and drinks. In autumn try a pumpkin beer drink with vegetable dishes, choose spicy/ savoury ales with festive turkey, and combine summery pales of the season with light salads.
Local beer and local cuisine often naturally fit and complement one another. For example, greasy donuts or pork with full bodied dark lager in Prague, slightly sweet, spicy beef stew with Belgian dubbel, Asian dishes with tropical flavour of Pacific pale ales, mussels with Belgian pale or wit.