For much of the time since “culinary” became a word that people actually used, the focus on beverage pairings has been on fancy dishes and wine.
Not anymore. Two most welcome trends — the craft-beer boom and consumers’ increasing comfort with the once-forboding world of wine — have brought us to a point where we can speculate, and of course debate, not just whether to have wine or beer with everyday foods (and Super Bowl party staples), but which type of each is best-suited for them.
So here’s the lowdown from beer guy Michael Agnew and wine guy Bill Ward on options for some of our favorite food-beverage combos.
Beer: Burgers with the works benefit from the palate-scrubbing power of hops. A little bit of toasted or caramel malt is also good to pick up the browned crust on the meat. Try an American pale ale. It has hops and malt in spades, and the citrusy notes from the hops will complement the mustard and ketchup. Another option is a California common ale or “steam beer” such as Anchor Steam. It has a toastier malt profile and rustic, woody hops to scrape your palate clean.
Wine: The beef and bun matter less than the choice of condiments: mustard (plush merlot or malbec), ketchup (rich, peppery syrah/shiraz) or mayonnaise (buttery chardonnay, which also plays well with fatty beef). Not to mention mushrooms (pinot noir) and bacon with cheese (Côtes du Rhône red).
Beer: Vienna lager is a great choice for tomato-based pizza. Caramel maltiness counters the acidity of the sauce while subtle toasty notes pick up on the crust. It’s neutral enough to work with virtually any topping you layer on. If you like a lot of cheese, go with an American amber ale. It has the caramel malt, but with extra hops to clear away all that gooey goodness.
Wine: The toppings matter, of course, but as long as it has tomato sauce, sangiovese is an easy call. Chianti Classico and other reds from Tuscany fit under the “If it grows together, it goes together” mantra, deftly dancing with the tomatoes. If you favor ham and pineapple on pizzas, you’re on your own.
Beer: “If it grows together, it goes together” is what the wine people say. That works for beer, as well. A yeasty German wheat beer is the classic pairing with German sausages such as bratwurst. Light-bodied yet richly mouth-filling, it matches the brat’s weight. Spicy notes from the yeast work with the seasoning of the sausage while fruity flavors offer a pleasing contrast. Effervescent carbonation clears it all away. If you don’t like the banana and clove flavors of German wheat beers, try an American-style wheat ale. It has the bready wheat flavor and high carbonation without the fruit and spice.
Wine: Again, the toppings can be your guide, but brats are more strongly flavored than burgers. That means a strongly flavored red blend with ripe fruit. Some of these are referred to as “sweet reds,” but they’re not sugary-tasting, more in the bold vein, and usually have some major spiciness to them.
Beer: A classic American-style lager is the perfect partner for Buffalo wings. There is a bit of sweetness to counteract the heat and a high level of carbonation to clear it all away. Bitterness is low, so the combination won’t set your head on fire. For those who like it hot, an IPA will do the trick. Bitterness amplifies heat, so these bitter beauties will send the Scoville units soaring. The hoppy flavors of IPA will also go well with the blue cheese dressing used as dipping sauce.
Wine: Go with beer, especially if the wings are hot and thirst-inducing. But low-alcohol moscato generally is delightful with spicy foods. There’s just enough acidity to pierce through the sauce, and the ones with some effervescence cozy right up to the hot stuff, providing a singular sensation.
Beer: Reach for malt-forward beers that offer a bit of sweetness or roast to complement the caramelized and charred flavors in the meat and contrast the tangy, spicy flavors of the seasoning and sauce. For dry-rubbed ribs, try a German schwarzbier or black lager. Sometimes called a “black pilsner,” schwarzbier combines the crispness and balanced malt and hops of that style with just a touch of roastiness. The delicate malt sweetness and spicy hops touch on both the sweet and spice of a rub, and the hint of roast works with the smoky char of the meat. Saucy ribs call for something stronger and sweeter. The rich, caramel maltiness of doppelbock complements the caramelized sugars and contrasts the tomato tang of barbecue sauce.
Wine: Time for some rich and fruity reds, and none fit the bill as well as zinfandel. The jammy and juicy ones work best with dry-rub ribs, and the still-fruity but herb- and spice-tinged zins play well with slabs slathered in sauce. Quaff some water, too, because zins tend to be high in alcohol.
Beer: Though they can be massively filling, the flavors of most burritos are actually very light. The body and flavor of lighter German lagers are a perfect match; they pull out the flavors that are present, without overwhelming them. Spicy continental hops pump up the modest spice of salsa and bring out the fresh flavors of cilantro. Bready malt ties into the tortilla to hold the whole thing together.
Wine: Think Spain. Earthy/dusty tempranillos and garnachas have bright fruit flavors that liven up the meal, whether the primary filling is beef, beans or chicken. There’s also a light savoriness to both parts of this pairing. Another great Iberian option: sparkling Cava, the crispness punching up the meal.
Beer: There is a lot going on in pad Thai – salt, sweetness, acidity, spicy heat and umami all in one dish. And let’s face it: There is often a good bit of oil to contend with. Leipziger gose (GO-zuh) brings a level of complexity that can deal with all of it. This light, refreshing, German wheat beer style is brewed with coriander and salt. The subtle saltiness boosts the salt and umami in the dish, while the coriander speaks to the spice. Lactic fermentation gives gose a soft tartness that pulls out any citrus flavors hidden among the noodles. A Belgian strong golden ale works similarly to gose, but all the complementing and contrasting flavors come from fermentation. It has the citrusy fruit, the peppery spice and the pillowy sweetness to work with all the elements of pad Thai. It’s hefty enough to stand up to what can often be a heavy dish. High alcohol boosts the spice and cuts through the oil.
Wine: Gewürztraminer might be hard to pronounce (Guh-VURZ-trah-mee-ner), but is a fail-safe accompaniment for spicy Asian dishes. It literally means “spice grape,” and the spices tend toward the tropics. The American and Alsatian renditions boast a minerality that rocks with even the most difficult foods.
Beer: The meat and mushroom soup base of a classic Minnesota hot dish needs a brew with a hearty malt backbone and some earthy undertones. Biére de garde is just the ticket. This French farmhouse-style beer is built on a sturdy framework of toasted and caramel malt that holds its own against the casserole and even talks to the toasty tots. Hops and sometimes yeast add the earthy tones that work well with the mushrooms. It’s a beer that is every bit as comforting as the dish. To combat what one friend called the “gloppiness of the mushroom soup,” you might try an American amber ale. You get similar caramel malt tones, but with a higher level of palate-cleansing hops and bitter.
Wine: Earthy reds with a touch of spice are called for with this mishmash of meat, mushroom soup and more — especially if wild rice is involved. And while pinot noir is the obvious choice, I’m going with herby, hearty cabernet franc, variously from California, Washington or the Loire (Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur).
Beer: Belgian saisons offer a wonderful complement to all sorts of Mediterranean cuisine. Dry and spritzy like Champagne, they are light enough to let the salad shine, but flavorful enough to tackle a hearty Caesar dressing. Highlights of lemon and orange citrus pull out those subtler flavors from the salad dressing. A touch of residual sweetness boots the saltiness of the anchovies. Spicy notes of black pepper work like fresh-cracked pepper on the salad.
Wine: Here’s another “grows together, goes together” deal, although the Caesar salad was invented by an American. Zesty Italian whites, primarily pinot grigio from Friuli or Trentino but also vermentino and Greco di Tufo, play zing-zang with the acidic parts of the salad and plump up the anchovies.
Beer: Fried curds are one of the Northland’s greatest gifts to the world. Delightful though they are, the heavy cheese and deep-fried fat demand a beer with some pretty serious palate-scrubbing potential. Heaps of hops are called for. IPA and the bigger, bolder Double or Imperial IPA will do the trick nicely. Bitter enough to scrape even the taste buds off your tongue, they also have an underlying maltiness that offers a nice complement to the breading. If you are worried about overwhelming the delicate flavor of the curd, go with a pilsner. It has enough bitterness to clear away the grease, but is subtle enough that you’ll still taste the cheese.
Wine: The natural inclination is to go for something super-acidic to counter the deep-fried fat. But rich, minerally whites are a more felicitous option. A lush but briny albariño, a semi-dry Washington riesling or a plush, ripe California sauvignon blanc will deftly play off the cheese’s sweetness (and the grease if the curds are fried).
Beer: With plain-old potato chips a Munich Helles style lager is light enough to let the chips come through and has just the right balance of bitter and sweet to give both complements and contrasts. The saltiness of the chips enhances the malty sweetness of the beer, while the beer’s bitterness washes away the oils from the chips. For a really interesting pairing try barbecue chips with a Belgian dubbel. The emphasis here is on the interplay of sweet and spice, with deep, dark-fruit notes coming through from both chip and brew.
Wine: Marilyn Monroe’s favorite food-wine pairing was potato chips and Champagne. The crisp acidity in sparkling wines from Champagne, Italy, or California or wherever cuts through the fat in the chips and marries blissfully with the saltiness. Bubble up!
Beer: These are so sticky sweet that a counteracting element is needed in the beer. That can come in the form of bitterness or acidity. Coffee stout brings balancing bitterness from both roasted grains and actual coffee. It’s just like drinking coffee with dessert. A sweetened raspberry lambic — Framboise — provides acidity from fruit and fermentation. Think of it like a tart raspberry sauce on chocolate.
Wine: Dessert wines are the obvious choice, but in that case it’s almost essential that the wine be sweeter than the s’mores. Consider a buttery California chardonnay, which is a surprisingly apt partner with milk chocolate and in many cases will be even creamier than the dessert itself.
Beer: German hefeweizen and Belgian witbier both have a natural affinity for bacon – or cured meat of any kind, really. Wheat and yeast give them a pillowy sweetness that emphasizes the saltiness of the meat. Both beers have a slight acidity that will play off the tomato. And they are light enough that they won’t overwhelm the light flavors of this salad-on-toast sandwich.
Wine: This summer staple calls for a summery wine: rosé, the drier the better. They’re made from red grapes and thus can stand up to the “B” but also are peppy and fruity enough to sing with the “L” and the “T.” And their brisk acidity counterbalances the standard favored condiment, mayonnaise.