Beer Pairing: An Adventure in Cut, Complement and Contrast

I had always thought that the best, if not the only beverage to pair with food, was wine. Although I have known for some time that beer CAN be paired with certain dishes, I had not realized that beer could be the beverage that worked BEST with some dishes. I learned this clearly a little while ago.

Beer and Wine

I took five days off during which I prepared an array of interesting dishes that I planned to test with an assortment of interesting beers. Being wine drinkers primarily, my designated taster and I had always had a full wine refrigerator. But this weekend, it was “out with the wine and in with the beer”. To our delight, we were astonished at some of the results.

Over the previous six weeks I had been pursuing the Prud’homme beer sommelier program. As a result I have become familiar with the three “C’s” – cut, complement and contrast. The week prior to this little adventure I had selected a number of dishes, several of which were well known NOT to pair well with any type of wine. I found some orphan beer and cheese samples in my office and shopped for additional items. By Thursday, the larder and refrigerator were full.

Beer and Cheese pic

The Dishes                                                                                                                                                                             The Beers

Fresh Malpeque oysters                                                                                                                                                         Guinness Stout

Salad Greens with Anjou pears, fresh walnuts, English Stilton and Wheat Beer Vinaigrette                          Schneider Weisse Original Tap 7

Broiled spicy pork and pineapple with hot chillies and lime ginger dressing                                                       Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen, Schneider Weiss Aventinus Tap 5

Moose and Juniper stew with baby potatoes                                                                                                                  Goose Island Pere Jacques, Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale

Grilled Le Caveau cheese sandwich with cornichons and pickled onions                                                             Kronenburg Blanc, Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale

Chocolate, Caramel and Pecan delices                                                                                                                             Morte Subite Kriek, Guinness Stout

The Malpeque Oysters

Guinness, a dry stout, or Irish stout, is made in Dublin, Ireland. It was common to serve oysters in pubs in the 18th century. They were typically sourced nearby and plentiful. In France, Muscadet is the beverage to drink with oysters for the same reason. The French are very cognizant of terroire and the wine and oysters share characteristics of the same terroire. I have heard no similar discussion regarding Guinness and oysters.  However this beer, paired with bi-valves is sublime. The slightly burnt maltiness contrasts well with the sea-water brine. The mouth feel of the two is very similar and the beer washes the saline brine away. It is all rather gentle. This is a pairing I intend to re-visit again and again.



Salad Greens with Anjou pears, walnuts, English Stilton and Wheat Beer Vinaigrette

We had tried a similar delicious recipe at our Prud’homme dinner so I was anxious to try a variation of this classic combination on my own. The dressing was made with Schneider Weisse Original Tap 7. It has a slight roastiness on the nose and a delicate pineapple and citrus flavour. It is a Hefeweizen but perhaps could be called a Dunkel because of its pecan colour. Normally I would make my own salad dressing in the style of a conventional French or Italian vinaigrette. However my tasting partner prefers more flavourful dressings and is unimpressed by that traditional approach. Because I was unsure how the addition of beer would affect olive oil to vinegar ratio, I sought out a dressing recipe online. There I found both the recipe for a dressing and the recipe for this salad.

Although I have several balsamic vinegars in my cupboard, I rarely use them because I find them extremely acetic. This recipe called for a half cup of balsamic vinegar, one third of a cup of olive oil and three quarters of a cup of Schneider Weiss Original Tap 7 as well as some wildflower honey and Dijon mustard. The beer had the effect of mellowing out the balsamic vinegar. This salad would qualify as a “perfect dish”; it is at once sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The dressing enhances every flavour on the plate.

When one drinks the Schneider Weisse Original Tap 7 while eating this salad, one experiences true complementarity. Together they provide a fresh and bright experience. No one flavour dominates or is dominated; they are all evident but well matched. This recipe and pairing will become permanent fixtures in my cooking repertoire. They are far superior to attempting to find a wine that goes well with salad. No wonder the traditional salad course follows the meal … after the wine is done.

Pear and Walnut with Stilton Salad

Salad Greens with Anjou pears, walnuts, English Stilton and Wheat Beer Vinaigrette


Broiled spicy Pork and Pineapple with hot chillies and lime ginger dressing

This is a simple recipe that combines many flavours. The pork chops, pineapple slices and onions are cooked at high heat under the broiler and are slightly charred. The cayenne pepper on the pineapple slices is slightly spicy and the hot chillies are hot. The lime ginger dressing pulls all of the flavours together. The dish is citrusy, tart, gingery, spicy and sweet, all at once. Served on rice, it also has little or no fattiness.

I chose the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen mistakenly because I misread the label. I wanted a marzen but not a rauchbier. This beer tastes like smoke sausage with barbeque sauce. It is delicious on its own. When paired with the pork dish it intensified the spiciness. It did not relieve the heat of the dish but, strangely, it completely cleansed the palate. The Rauchbier also completely overwhelmed the delicate flavours of the lime and ginger; they could not be tasted at all. Although one could say that the beer cut through the flavours and cleansed the palate the result was not positive. It was clearly not complimentary; and if a contrast, it was not a positive one. This was a bad pairing.

Seeking salvation, we opened a bottle of Schneider Weisse Aventinus Tap 5. According to the label, it is Germany’s original wheat doppelbock. It has an ABV of 8.2%. The ripe banana and tropical fruit nose and taste perfectly complemented the dish. The higher alcohol content and fruity sweetness enhanced the flavours in the dish.  My tasting partner suggested that the beer actually echoed the flavours of the dish. I think he’s right!


Moose and Juniper stew with baby potatoes

My tasting partner had returned home from Ottawa a few months ago with a one pound cut of fresh moose meat. I tossed it into the freezer, intending to deal with it later … much later. However the hunter is a nice person and deserved better than that so I determined to integrate the moose into this project.

There are very few moose meat recipes to be found. It is traditionally grilled or braised. I decided to go with braising. I have also been told that moose should be cooked very slowly, at low heat and with lots of liquid. I found a venison stew recipe in “Jamie’s America” – a cook book by Jamie Oliver – and used it, replacing the venison with moose. The only other change I made was to marinate the moose meat in the chosen beer – Goose Island Beer Company’s Pere Jacques, a Belgian style Abbey Ale. Beer is said to have the properties of a tenderizer and this meat had no visible fat so this seemed to be a good idea. I marinated the meat for an hour.  Because this beer has relatively fewer hops, it is a better choice for cooking.

What a surprise! There was no marriage, no match, no complement, no cut, no contrast. The stew was delicious and the beer was delicious but they both marched through our mouths separately, never crossing paths. We knew not what to make of this. After reflection, I believe that had either the meat or the vegetables been slightly caramelized, the pairing might have worked. The presence of juniper and rosemary was not evident.  Perhaps an American Pale Ale might have performed better. Obviously this requires more research!


Grilled Le Caveau Cheese Sandwich with cornichons and pickled onions

The grilled cheese sandwich is the quintessential comfort food, universally loved. My favourite variation requires Fontina cheese and several drops of dry white wine to moisten the insides of the bread. Le Caveau is a semi-firm washed rind cheese from the award-winning Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser in Noyan Quebec. It has a nutty roasted flavour and an earthy aroma. Even better – it melts well, perfect for a grilled cheese sandwich.

Two beers were chosen as possible matches: Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc, a flavoured wheat beer, and Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale, an American pale ale. The Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc fully complemented the grilled cheese sandwich. The beer is citrusy and refreshing and married surprisingly well with the nuttiness of the cheese. The beer stood up to the cheese and pickles and slowly cleansed the palate. It complemented the food while cutting through the fattiness of the cheese. We thought this was an excellent pairing.

Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc

Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc

On the other hand, the American Pale Ale completely washed the sandwich and the pickles away. We thought it would be a good match because of its light, delicate and fruity nose and clean finish. However, it completely overpowered the food. Perhaps a Belgian Ale in which the malt is more prevalent than the hops would do a better job. More research …

Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale

Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale

Chocolate, Caramel and Pecan delices

We had a small collection of sweet desserts in the house. These included a dark chocolate ganache brownie, a milk chocolate caramel and cashew candy called a ‘Fraktal’ (made in Aurora, Ontario) and a slice of pecan pie with a shortbread crust. I must confess I did not make any of these – I only put them on a platter.

Two beers were chosen for this tasting: Morte Subite Kriek, a Lambic beer, and Guinness Stout. The Kriek (cherry) beer on its own is effervescent and tart. In fact its tartness seems to overwhelm its cherry taste. It is a beautiful red colour. It cuts through the richness of the brownie and cleanses the palate; the brownie makes the beer taste sweeter and fruitier. The same happens with the pecan tart; the beer cuts through the fattiness of the crust while the tart enhances the flavour of the beer. However, the beer seems to make the Fraktal disappear. It wipes the palate clean as if one never tasted the candy.

On to the Guinness. It reminds me of chocolate milk I had when I was a child. I appreciate the balance between the maltiness and the hops. As one would expect it was a perfect complement to the brownie. They both have the same weight and a similar mouth feel; and the Guinness cleans the palate as well. It equally complemented the Fraktal – not surprising since the candy is made of milk chocolate and caramel. Unfortunately there was no trifecta. The Guinness added nothing to the pecan tart; it neither cut through the fattiness, nor complemented the flavour. It made the shortbread crust taste mealy and unpleasant. But hey – two out of three ain’t bad.

Mort Subite Original Kriek

Mort Subite Original Kriek


In conclusion:

  1. Beer can pair extremely well with food.
  2. Just as with wine, one has to search for the right beer to pair with the right food. Research and experimentation will help.
  3. Just as with wine, careful note taking is required. It is amazing how difficult it is to keep all the details straight.
  4. Based on this small experiment, it seems likely that beer is a superior choice (to wine) to pair with salads (with vinegar-based dressings), chocolate, and spicy food. I intend to explore cheese and beer pairings further; I expect to learn more in this area.

And finally, beer tasting may be just as complex as wine tasting. I stand corrected for all the times I have said that this was impossible.


Written by Cindy Simpson, Wine AND Beer Lover