Before we jump in to my treasure trove of beer and food pairing tips, we need to dispel one myth: there are no rules. Drink what you prefer and eat likewise. If YOU like it, it’s a good pairing, there are no hard and fast rules, just considerations and principles to keep in mind.
1. Consider intensity. When subjecting your tasters to a palate wrecking chipotle dish or 1000 IBU IPA, consider the delicacy of what you’re pairing that monster with. Mild works well with mild, and strong holds up next to strong. If you really want to pair an intense food or beer, you may consider equally intense counterpart that can take a punch.
2. What flavors linger should be what is paired. Consider what flavors stick around on your palate after the bite when you think about what you pair it with. Making a steak with a garlicky cream sauce? That sauce will probably linger more than the meat. Pair to that rather than the steak.
3. Alcohol intensifies heat. This can be good or bad, but a factor that should be considered. Was that curry a little more mellow than you intended? Grab a high ABV (alcohol by volume) beer to kick the heat up a notch. On the other hand, that jalapeno and Habanero chili might need a low alcohol session beer.
4. Don’t forget texture. I will spare you from a lecture using my least favorite beer term, "mouth feel," with just a mention of the idea that carbonation cuts through grease and fat. A great compliment to a triple cheese pizza isn’t as much a flavor but a texture, bubbles add a cleansing balance to a rich greasy meal. While a smooth stout, with low carbonation levels, will match the silkiness of a creamy chocolate mousse. Consider carbonation levels when paring, not just flavors.
5. Think of all the flavors being in one bowl. The ingredients should be able to coexist simultaneously, and although the argument can be made for contrasting, the best place to start is complimenting. The best way to do this is thinking about all the flavors together. Let’s just pretend that you made yourself a big pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. What do you want to throw in that pot? a beer with notes of caramel and molasses or a beer with lemon and basil. I don’t know about you but that last beer is looking like a much better man for that job.
When it comes to cooking and beer, it’s always a fairly safe bet to pair with the beer you used to make the dish. I used a higher hop wheat beer for this, a good beer for pairing as well. The wheat matches the flavors in the breadsticks (obviously) and the slightly higher than average hops can keep up with the kick of garlic.