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Sure, an ice-cold brew and a double cheeseburger or bucket of hot wings is always a solid pairing, but did you know that beer has even more varietals than wine? A frothy beverage with higher-end fare like steak, pasta, and even seafood can bring out flavors you never thought possible. Consider us your own personal cicerone (that’s the beer version of a sommelier), as we explore how to pick beers that enrich and intensify an array of dishes that aren’t served with a football game in the background.
Choice Cuts of Steak
It might seem sacrilegious not to reach for a bottle of red when eating a filet or prime rib, but malty beers enhance the flavors of the beef by contrasting the salt and adding depth and richness to the meat. Belgian-style ales like Dubbels and Tripels with hints of caramel and brown sugar coax out the succulence. They break down the fat and mirror the caramelization in red meat. These sweet-leaning brews also linger on the palate to enliven the juices with every bite and round out the nuttiness of the beef — especially in dry-aged and highly marbled cuts.
Eat: Prime Rib, Porterhouse, Filet Mignon
Drink: St. Bernardus Prior 8 Dubbel
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High-End Chicken Dishes
Outside of Buffalo-style, you probably wouldn’t think to reach for a beer with chicken, but with decadent dishes like Coq Au Vin or Chicken Marsala, both in a rich wine reduction, beer is the perfect complement to bring crisp notes to the mix. Farmhouse ales like a Saison are highly carbonated to cut the sweet shallots and bacon lardons infused in the meat, and the fruitiness balances the butter without skewing too saccharine. It’s fizzy enough to counteract the fat and oil and fresh enough to palate-cleanse the creamy, mouth-coating sauces. Saisons also have a touch of spice that impart earthy notes to the poultry that keep the pairing grounded.
Eat: Coq Au Vin, Roast Chicken, Cornish Hens
Drink: Side Project Brewing Saison Du Fermier
Hearty Meat Dishes
Hearty dishes like chili or slow-cooked stews need an equally robust beer to stand up to the flavors and add another layer of boldness in beverage form. Stouts and Doppelbocks both boast big flavors and are toasty and full-bodied enough to hold their own against thick gravy and chunks of seasoned meat. Often referred to as “liquid bread” when paired with food, these beer varieties mimic dipping warm rolls into a savory sauce but with a refreshing swirl of sweetness to create the perfect bite that’s both thirst-quenching and satisfying. Hints of rum raisin, toffee, and even chocolate truffle will take braised meats to the next level while upping the aromatic factor to engage all of your senses.
Eat: Chili, Beef Stew, Bolognese
Drink: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
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Heavy Cream and Butter-Based Pasta
There aren’t many breweries in Italy, so pairing pasta with beer isn’t your standard option when consuming a classic carbonara or Cacio e Pepe. But carbonation is these sauces’ best friend for breaking down butter and heavy cream while allowing the silky flavors to shine. These are dishes where you want light, bubbly beers with a kick of hops to counter the luxuriousness of linguine with clams or fettuccine alfredo. IPAs are the natural choice, but Hefewizens with notes of coriander, cloves, and citrus also reset the palate while piquing the savoriness.
Eat: Fettucine Alfredo, Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe
Drink: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
Beer and lobster?! For shame! Turns out, it’s for sure. Capping off your crustaceans with a yeasty brew is even better than any vine-grown accompaniment. Witbiers, with their slightly sweet, honey-like flavor, expertly match the sweetness of shellfish and shroud them in its velvety embrace, thanks to the addition of oats. A fruity yet malt-forward finish to this style of ale rounds out the softness of lobster meat to create complex layers of flavor not found in the fish alone.
Eat: Lobster, Scallops, Snow Crab
Drink: Allagash White Ale
Next time you’re out at a fancy restaurant and the sommelier suggests a wine list for your surf ‘n’ turf, politely ask for the beer menu and make them wonder what you know that they don’t. Then, proudly clink your glass of barley and wheat because you’ve got this.