Simple beer pairing guide

2 mins read
Beer and steak
Beer and steak

Beer pairing dinners seem to be all the rage lately. More and more people are beginning to realize that the complex flavors of beer can compliment more than backyard barbecue fare. If you’ve ever been to a beer pairing event, you know that the chef likes to describe how the thus-and-such flavor of the beer brings out this particular flavor in that particular dish. It can sound a little complicated and pretentious to your average beer drinker.

So, here is a list of simple beer pairing suggestions, abbreviated from an already short and simple list from

Food Beer Reasoning
Southeast Asian, Indian and Central/South American (spicy) Light, crisp beers such as light lagers Light body cools the heat
Cheese Nutty brown ale, sweet hoppy double IPA or tangy wheat ale Similar to nuts, fruits and sweets often paired with cheese
Desserts or meat dishes Stouts and porters Coffee and chocolate flavors match similar flavors in desserts and meats
Foods featuring spices and herbs Belgian beers Often spicy, tangy or fruity, pair with foods featuring spices and herbs to pull similar flavors forward from the beer
Dessert British Barleywines (usually sweet) Syrupy and fruity, excellent stand-ins for dessert wines
Fatty meats, creamy sauces and starches American Barleywines (usually hoppy) Bitterness helps cut through fat and starches

The basic concept is to take the character of the food (sweet, bitter, spicy, etc) and either compliment it with a beer with a similar character or choose a beer with a contrasting flavor profile. The key, I think, is to experiment because there really are no wrong answers.

In the end it comes down to personal taste. For instance, Mexican food would generally be paired with a light lager but I really enjoy drinking Modelo Dark with Mexican dishes. Besides, if you say a certain beer pairs well with a certain food because the flavor profile of the beer compliments the spices in the food, your less-beer-educated friends aren’t likely to argue. They’ll just think you’re a beer geek and what could be better than that?


  1. I am enjoying you website and all the info. You haveencouraged me to start cooking out in my little brewery I have created with my one car garage. Actually only 2/3s of it. The other third is now a potters room where I can create. I am a beginner in both hobbies. Beer about two years and potery just a few months but at 72 I need something to do besides painting and drywall. I have been doing the later 44 years and mostly part time now. I have got this town started thinking beer and a club is on it’s way. Just finished the Oktobefest with a beer tasting. Many now want to start up …
    John in Payson, AZ

  2. Im trying to learn what beers go with what foods, tonight we’re having spaghetti so what beer goes with that?

  3. Jon, the beer that you pair with spaghetti depends on the spaghetti. Is it spicy with big meatballs? If so, I would go with a lighter beer like an amber or red ale or even a lager. If it is lighter, more like a capellini pomodoro, I think I would balance with a richer, more full-bodied beer like a porter. The “rules” are really suggestions so experiment to find out what works for your tastes.

    There is an excellent food pairing chart that you can download from

  4. Your website has been a huge help to me, but I think I need a little more help! I purchase beer and wine for for a restaurant/non profit in Seattle. Our food menu changes weekly because we have celebrity chefs from the region come in a make a three course meal to raise money. My dilemma is finding about 3 beers that will work well with a rotating menu. Any suggestions?

  5. @Shanelle
    Wow. Only 3 beers? That’s like asking for 3 songs to fit any occasion. I appreciate your situation; you’re trying to keep it simple. I applaud you for seeking out craft beers. Many in your situation would just go with Bud, Bud Light, and PBR for the adventurous.

    IMO, the Northwest is the best place in the country for craft beer because of the close proximity of the hops farms. You shouldn’t have to look far to find some really great beers. I know Pyramid has an Alehouse in Seattle even though their brewery is in Portland, as is Rogue Brewery, Deschutes Brewery and Full Sail. Redhook is in Woodinville, WA. I would think that any of these would be willing to work with a charity to supply some great beers.

    If you’re just wanting to head down to the beer store and pick up some cases, I guess I would recommend hitting the 3 colors of the beer spectrum. Light, like a pale ale or a lager; medium like a brown or red ale; and dark, either a porter or a stout. I’ve never met a Northwestern beer lover that didn’t like his IPA (I’m in Idaho so I’ve met lots), but IPA’s can be a bit much for the casual beer drinker.

    I hope that helps. We’ll contact you privately and see if we can’t make some introductions for you with some of the great brewers in your area.

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