I love beer. I love it so very much. I think the only thing I could possibly love more than beer is food, so when I put the two together, I take it pretty damn seriously.
No other beverage compares to the variations and varieties you can find in beer. Compare a light, bright, hoppy pilsner to a deep, dark, rich, boozy Stout. Both beers, but both mind-bogglingly different in every single way. In between these two styles are an infinite array of colours, aromas, mouthfeels and flavours, so when it comes to matching froth with fodder, the sky is the limit. Food and wine matching has had its day. Now it's beer's turn.
Break it down.
When it comes to successful beer and food matching, you really can break it down to three simple rules. Compliment, Contrast and Cut-through (or Cleanse). Consider this a cheat sheet to great beer matches.
As the title suggests, this is when you pick flavour notes in a beer that compliment flavour notes in a dish, when the two sit in harmony with each other. Beers with citric flavours matched with white fish. Coffee Stouts matched with chocolate deserts. Rich, fruity dubbels matched with fruit cake. You get the picture.
Take this match, for example.
Honey-cured crudo (raw) beef matched with barrel-aged barley-wine. In this match, the sweet raisin, brown sugar notes of the aged barleywine sit in perfect harmony with the honey in the cured meat.
Belgian Tripel with Lobster tail in a Tripel-infused sauce.
This is a good example of creating a complimentary match by actually using some of the accompanying beer in the recipe itself. I wouldn't usually match a big, heavy, sweet, boozy beer like a Tripel with a delicate flavour like lobster. However, since the chef served it with a creamy sauce infused with the beer itself, this match worked a treat.
This is when you pick flavour notes in a beer that sit in contrast with the accompanying dish, when the flavours sit in opposite corners of the taste spectrum, yet for some reason they work together.
This C-rule sits dangerously close to another less desirable C-word, 'Clash', so it is one to tread lightly with, but the rewards can be incredible.
A perfect example of this is an old favourite of mine, German Hefeweizens with spicy Thai, Indian or Mexican dishes. While you would think salty, spicy dishes wouldn't work with a beer that is known for its fruity and yeasty banana flavour notes, they just do.
Cleanse / Cut-through
This is a reference to one taste cutting through another, cancelling an opponent out and cleansing the palate. Usually with beer this means the dry bitterness of the hop character cancelling out an oily or creamy opposing taste. A popular Aussie match that fits with this rule is a dry hoppy pilsner accompanying battered fish and chips. The hops in the pilsner will cut through the oily fish and chips, cleansing the palate nicely. Another cut-through match I enjoy is a hoppy IPA drunk with a rich, creamy blue cheese.
This is a good example of a cut-through match I made short work of on a recent trip to Germany. A big oily, greasy Chicken Schnitzel (with a creamy mushroom sauce) eaten with a light, bright, hoppy Kölsch. The hoppy zest in the beer cut through the oily schnitzel after every mouthful -- the perfect ying-yang.
However, sometimes the best match for beer is... beer.
And though the three Cs are a good guide to successful beer-food matching, they are by no means set in stone. Tasting and matching is totally up to your own personal tastes, so go out and experiment for yourself.