by Arvid Bergström Beer sommelier and author of titles such as Proef Bier (Taste Beer)
Food pairing tipsBeer with food
What food pairs best with beer? Or what beer do you taste with what food? The combination of food and beer is known as ‘food pairing’.
Beer goes wonderfully with food!
Beer is delicious with food. There are numerous examples: a Rochefort 10 with dark chocolate; the barley wine from De Molen (Bommen en Granaten) with Stilton on toast. You can prepare a dish for every beer, but how? How do you pair the right beer with the right food? Find out in three steps.
The first step: intensity
You want to make sure the intensity of your beer matches the intensity of your food. Intense food with a subtle beer is a waste, because you won’t be able to taste the beer, nor the food. A beer with 10% alcohol won’t go well with the subtle flavours of a mild dish, because the beer will overwhelm it.
Intensity is primarily determined by:
- The strength of the flavours;
- The alcohol percentage;
- The mouthfeel;
- The quantity of residual sugars.
The higher the alcohol percentage, the more intense the beer: just look at the blond compared with the tripel. The mouthfeel also determines the intensity; is it refreshing and watery or thick and syrupy? Is the beer heavily or mildly carbonated? If there are lots of residual sugars in the beer, it’ll be thicker, such as a quadruple like the Urthel Samaranth.
Intensity of the beer
The temperature of the beer impacts the flavour. If the beer is cold, you’ll be able to taste less. You can give the beer more intensity by serving it 4 degrees warmer.
Intensity of the food
It’s easier to adjust the intensity of the food. Saltier and greasier foods add intensity to the dish, such as boiled or fried potatoes. Certain herbs and spices can add freshness while others make it hotter.
The second step: flavours in the beer and food
You can play around to some extent with flavours - they don’t have to be the same. The intensity has to be comparable, but not the flavours. You can technically try any combination, but there are a couple of pitfalls to be aware of. Sweet food will strengthen the sweetness of beer, for example, resulting in sweetness being the overwhelming flavour at the cost of everything else. So taste and see for yourself!
Five basic flavours in beer:
Sweetness comes primarily from the malts used. Lightly roasted malts impart a subtle grain or caramel flavour, such as in the Gouverneur Dubbel.
Bitterness comes mainly from the hops. Pilsners, IPAs and double IPAs use a large amount of hops - the Chateau Neubourg has been voted the best pilsner in the Netherlands for the third year in a row.
Dark roasted malts can also impart bitterness.
Sourness can come from the use of sour malts, for example. Beers with sour malts aren’t especially sour in flavour - a nice example would be the Waterwolf Saison from Brouwerij Hoop. Geuze is much more sour, such as Oude Geuze from Oud Beersel.
Beer contains a small amount of salt. This salt comes from the water used in the brewing process.
The German beer style gose contains slightly saltier water - Oedipus Swingers is an example of a beer where salt is added.
Umami is the flavour of stock in tomatoes or Parmesan cheese. Umami in beer comes from the roasted malts such as in the Bloedbroeder.
The third step: the flavour hook
The third step is the flavour hook, for example the banana or clove flavour of a weizen. The Texels Wit has a mild banana flavour. Now you know this, you can think of a dish which goes well with banana: what about a chocolate dessert?
Other examples of flavour hooks would be: sour apple in a geuze, such as Boon Geuze Mariage Parfait with pork. Or a robust combination of spicy food with a hoppy, bitter beer such as Walhalla Loki. Wonderful to explore!