How To Pair Craft Beer with Food: A Beginner’s Guide

There are so many menus that go well with wine. Beer is still as diverse and sweet when paired with the right food. The only challenge with craft beer is that there are so many styles and tastes of beer that a single menu cannot pair with all beers on the market.

For restaurants, creating the right food-beer pairing menu can see you have more customers. At home, pairing your craft beer with food the right way will see you enjoy your favorite drink. It is easier to find a pairing for your beer at home seeing that you might only use one beer flavor. For restaurants and bars, instead of listing a menu for every beer, you need to find food flavors that go well with different beer flavors. This way, you will have fewer menus to choose from.

First, Understand Beer Flavors

Your favorite drink comes in different flavors. If you are only used to one of these flavors, you might not know the others. Some of the common words that you will come across describing flavor include:

  • Hops: Beer lovers use the term “hoppiness” to describe the bitterness of a beer. But not all hoppy beers are bitter. Hops, when added to beer, enhance the fruity and flowery taste of beer. When the hops are added early into the brewing process, the beer is bitter.
  • Bitter: Bitterness varies from one style of beer to the next. Breweries rank bitterness with an IBU number (International Bitterness Units); the higher the IBU number, the better the beer.
  • Malt: Malt is an ingredient of barley grain. Before it is added to beer, it is roasted. The beer sports a nutty flavor with a toasty aroma. The beer has a sweet caramel taste as the sugars in barley caramelize.
  • Dark: Dark is a description of beer taste rather than color. These beers have roasted malt grain. The grain is roasted until it turns dark. They have a rich and heavier taste with a nutty and caramel flavor.
  • Light: Light beers are clean and crisp. The beers are neither bitter nor hoppy and they feature low alcohol content.

How to Pair Your Favorite Beer with Food

There are no strict rules when it comes to pairing beer with food. Many food flavors, including greasy food, do not clash with beer flavors. Below are simple guidelines on pairing.

  • Contrast: If you want to pair food and beer with contrast, you need to pick a beer or food that has a strong flavor that overpowers the other. The beer or food needs a distinct taste that allows it to shine through. For instance, you can pair, stout and oysters; the oysters have a strong flavor that overshadows stout.
  • Complement: If a beer has the same rich flavor as food, you can pair them. For instance, you can match stouts and porters as they both have a heavy and rich flavor. You can also pair light and wheat beers with light-taste salads and fish.
    Cut down overpowering flavors: Even when you pair contrasting beers and food, you need to keep in check the overpowering taste of either. For instance, it would not be ideal to pair Salmon with Guinness as the taste of Salmon will be completely overpowered.
  • Palate Cleanser: For dishes with strong and overpowering flavors, you can use beer as a palate cleanser. For instance, if you eat spicy Indian food, you can drink light beers to wash down the spicy heat.

Different Styles of Beer and Food Pairings

There are different styles of beers. Each of these styles sports a different color, taste, alcohol content, and mouthfeel. As such, you need to understand the different styles of beer and how to pair them. Below is a quick guide on styles and pairings:

  • Light lagers are best paired with spicy foods, salads, and burgers: Light lagers are pale beers. The beer is not hoppy or bitter. It is the refreshing taste of this beer that makes it an ideal pair for spicy foods.
  • Wheat beers go well with spicy foods and fruity desserts: These beers feature equal parts of wheat and barley grains giving the beer a smooth texture with lighter carbonation. In most cases, breweries add fruit flavorings to the beer.
  • India Pale Ales, IPAs, are best served with steak, Mexican food, and barbecue: IPAs are the most common styles of beer in the craft beer industry. These beers have a medium amber color and are very bitter. Citrus and herbal tones make the beer more palatable.
  • Amber Ales taste better with Pizza, smoked pork, and fried food: With Amber Ales, you get a medium mouthfeel. The beer comes in between amber and reddish-gold colors. They mostly feature a rich malt taste with notes of sweet caramel.
  • Dark lagers are best served with Pizza, hearty stews, and burgers: Dark lagers are brewed with roasted malt grain. They sport a nutty flavor with a hint of sweetness from the caramelization of malt sugars.
  • Brown ales go well with sushi, fish, and sausage: These beers are neither hoppy nor bitter. Instead, they feature hints of chocolate and coffer such as porters and stouts.
  • Porters are great with coffee-flavored desserts, game meats, and seafood: Porters sport a dark color and toasty aroma. One of the main ingredients is roasted brown malts that give them notes of chocolate, coffee, and caramel.
  • Stouts taste better with shellfish, chocolate desserts, and Mexican food: Stouts are black with a roasted flavor. They have low alcohol content and are less bitter.


The above guide shows a general pairing guide. You can create your pairings by choosing foods with the same flavor as the food recommended in the guide above. Ensure that the flavors of food and beer do not completely mask each other.