Summer beer and food pairings can be as extravagant as a four-hour long coursed-out event, or as no-nonsense as picking the perfect pint for a cheeseburger. Either way, the most successful pairings aren't about matching flavors; they're about creating balance.
The range of flavor profiles brewers are experimenting with only continues to stretch, opening up possibilities for mind-blowing pairings, whether in elegant dining rooms or on breezy summer patios. Focusing on the varying elements within single styles of beer is the key to finding those unconventional, nuanced pairings that guests will never forget, and for which they’ll happily pay extra. Here's to a summer of good libations!
Traditionally brewed on Belgian farms using open fermentation to catch the air's seasonal offerings, saisons have always had varied profiles depending on terroir. They still have quite the range today, from lemony to peppery, or even spiced with orange peel and coriander. But the commonality of its highly effervescent and drier nature makes a skinny glass of saison superb with a heaping plate of mussels. Add a side of duck fat fries for the bubbles to cut right through, and you have a classic Moules-Frites bistro pairing that folks will line up around the block for. (Insider tip: Once you pair asparagus with saison, you will never try to find an appropriate white wine again!)
The crisp, snappy pilsner is a versatile summertime option that can make a citrus shrimp salad sing, but it can also cleanse the palate of the smokiest of barbecues. What makes pairing with a pilsner so great is that, since they are brewed using a variety of the "Noble Hop" group revered for their aroma, the beer takes on all the hops in the nose, without any bitterness in the mouth. Lush aromatics of herb, grass, lemon — even mint! — make pilsner a perfect companion that won't overpower za'atar-dusted Middle Eastern cuisine, or a fresh and fluffy Mediterranean herbed couscous. (Insider tip: A Czech Pilsner has a crisp acidity that cuts right through the rich beer-batter of a Wisconsin fish fry.)
Bitter is Better
Bitterness is fun to pair food with because it has a variety of applications. The burger topped with bacon whose juices run down your arm when you bite into it? Wash it down with a bold and bitter Imperial IPA. The fat will give the tongue almost a protective coating, softening the brash punch of a gnarly, intense hop.
Bitter also balances out sweet. So, plunk an American IPA next to a plate of cracked king crab legs or a side of seared scallops for an easy dinner pairing, or play around with hoppy beers for dessert with spiced cakes and cheese.
Hops also accentuate spice and pepperiness. Sandwiches stuffed with layers of salami, prosciutto, provolone, and arugula; and zesty, saucy Buffalo wings dunked in blue cheese are perfect patio pairings for a good old IPA. (Insider tip: Because bitter hops balance sweet and play up spice, skip the coffee and have an IPA with carrot cake for dessert. You didn't need that caffeine anyway!)