Most people have a basic understanding of matching wine with food, even if that doesn’t go much further than red with red meat, white with white meat. The concept of wine being the best match for food is so widespread that for many people, the idea of beer being a good match for food is a tough one to swallow. What most people don’t realise though is that beer is absolutely fantastic to match with food, because there is the so much variety and diversity in styles of beer, and different beers within each style. And because beer is typically lower in alcohol content than wine or spirits, and comes in a range of serving sizes, it is very versatile and suitable for all food occasions.
Food matching can seem like a complicated concept, but really the principles are quite simple. A meal is essentially a collection of different flavours, and those flavours combine and interact in different ways. As well as being a refreshing and enjoyable drink on its own, think of beer as providing other flavours that can combine and interact with the meal. The flavours within the meal itself can interact in different ways – similar flavours can complement each other, while very different flavours provide a contrast. Beer works the same way – when talking about beer and food matching, there are often three guiding principles – selecting a beer to complement, contrast or cut.
You can choose a beer because of a flavour that complements the meal, for example the rich maltiness in a dark beer paired with roast beef. Or you can choose a beer because of a flavour that contrasts with the dish – for example a hoppy bitter beer with a sweet dessert. There’s one other key principle in matching too - because of the hop bitterness in beer, it also does a fantastic job at cutting through certain flavours and cleansing the palate. Beers are brilliant at cutting through rich, creamy flavours, or through spicy foods.
Because there are multiple flavours in each meal, and often multiple flavours in the beer, the beer you choose can perform one or more of these tasks, and a range of different beers can pair well with any one meal, depending on what you want to match. And of course personal preference and taste comes into play – everyone’s taste buds are different! So this means there are no hard and fast rules about the right beer to match a dish – the fun comes from thinking about what flavours are in the dish, and what flavours you taste in the beer. It can be fun trying multiple different beer matches with a type of meal – all may work well for different reasons.
The intensity of flavour in the dish, and in the beer is also a good consideration. If your meal has very subtle, delicate flavours, choosing a beer with a strong flavour might overpower these flavours.
We’ve included a range of broad suggestions for beer and food matching. Some of these you will agree with, and others you may not – that’s perfectly OK. And given that there is a lot of variety in the different brands within a style, some will work better for you than others for a particular dish. The fun comes from thinking about beer and food matching and experimenting, and sharing your recommendations with others.
Remember, the best beer and food match is the one you like the most!
General beer and food matching tips
Italian dishes are often characterised by rich tomato and herb flavours, or my creamy, cheesy sauces. Lagers and pilseners do a great job of cutting through the rich or creamy sauces, and pilseners pair particularly well with spicy sauces like arrabiata. The hop flavours in pilseners and pale ales are a good complement to zingy fresh herbs. Pale ales are a great match with wood-fired pizzas.
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The spice in Indian dishes means they pair really with refreshing, cleansing beers like lagers and pilseners. Try a hoppier pilsener or pale ale to cut through the spice of a hot curry, or snacks like samosas. Lagers, pilseners and pale ales also cut through the richness of sauces and curries with cream, cheese or spinach. Pale, golden ales or amber ales can also be good matches with strongly flavoured curries.
Indian recipes coming soon.
The clean, fresh tastes of Mexican food pair well with lagers and pilseners, which are refreshing, cut through spice and won’t overpower the more delicate flavours of fresh Mexican food. The flavours of lemon, lime and coriander match really well with the citrus and fruity hop notes from pilseners or pale ales
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In general, lagers and pilseners are classic matches with hot and spicy food of all types, whether it is Indian, Thai, Mexican or Middle Eastern. Choosing a refreshing, quenching beer is important when eating spicy food, and the hop bitterness will help cut through the spice. For really spicy and flavourful dishes, consider hoppier pilseners – hoppy pale ales can also do this job well. As well as the spice, think about the other flavours in the dish – the delicate flavours of a Thai green curry may go well with a lighter lager, the zingy fresh flavours of Mexican can pair very well with citrusy hop notes, or sweeter flavours can pair well with beers with a more noticeable malty sweetness like ales.
A key consideration with fish dishes is matching a beer that won’t overpower the delicate fresh flavours of the fish. Lighter lagers or pilseners are a good choice, and wheat beers can also offer complementary flavours. Think about the other flavours in the fish dish and whether you want to complement or contrast. Creamy sauces can be cut through with lagers or pilseners, citrusy sauces or salsas can go very well with pilseners or pale ales, and sweeter fruit flavours can be a great match with wheat beers. Stronger flavours like smoked fish can also be well matched with golden or amber ales.
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The category of Asian dishes encompasses an incredibly diverse range of styles and flavours, but here are some very broad guidelines. For very subtle, delicate fresh flavours in Japanese cooking, lighter lagers or pilseners are often the best match. Aromatic Thai dishes can go well with pilseners and pale ales. Creamy or citrusy dishes can be an interesting match with wheat beers. More robust, spicier dishes can pair well with stronger flavours in pilseners or pale ales.
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Darker meats tend to be great matches with darker beers. Ales, dark beers, NZ draught styles, and some specialty styles typically have a malty sweetness, and can have roasted, nutty flavours, which complement red meat very well. There is great potential to match beers to sauces, glazes and gravies – some darker beers have chocolate, coffee, toffee or caramel notes which can make for wonderful matches. Sweet, caramelised or roast veges are a great match with sweeter maltier flavours in NZ draught or ale styles. Lighter beer styles can often be overpowered by the flavours in a beef dish, but If you prefer a lighter beer, think about a pale ale, or choose a lager with a stronger, maltier flavour.
See Beef recipes >>
Again, darker beers match very well with lamb, so consider ales, dark beers or NZ draught styles. Lamb and accompanying flavours are often a little bit more subtle than beef, so the stronger flavours in dark beers or specialty might be too much. By the same token, lagers, pilseners and pale ales may pair better with lamb than they do with beef. The old classic mint sauce can be a great match with the right hop flavours in a pilsener or pale ale.
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The classic Kiwi BBQ provides lots of great options for pairing with beers. Like some of our other categories, there is so much variety of flavour within BBQ dishes – and depending on whether you are BBQing sausages, steak, chicken or seafood there are different beer matching options so check out those sections for some tips too. Classic BBQ flavours (especially for those of us who err on the side of overcooking things on the barbie!) match really well with pales ales, ales, dark beers and NZ draught, especially darker meats and sausages, and sweet glazes and sauces. Lighter flavours like fish, seafood and chicken can match well with lagers and pilseners.
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The strong flavours of game meats like venison or rabbit are often best matched with stronger, more intense beer flavours. Hoppier pale ales, ales, dark beers and NZ draught beers can be good options to match the richness of the meat, and the often strong and rich sauces and accompaniments. The sweet and spicy notes of specialty beers such as Abbey ales can be an interesting complementary match. Lagers and pilseners can be easily overpowered by game meat, so if you like your beers lighter, choose a lager or pilsener with a stronger flavour.
Pork & Ham
Pork and ham dishes pair really well with most styles of beer: these dishes won’t overpower even lighter lagers and pilseners, and in turn won’t be overwhelmed by any but the most strongly flavoured beers. Pale ales, golden ales and amber ales can be great matches for roast pork or pork belly, and saltier, cured pork and ham dishes match well with stronger lagers or pilseners. Accompaniments to pork dishes are often sweet – classic flavours with pork include apples and prunes, which can be complemented by sweeter flavours in ales, NZ draught or specialty styles.
See Pork recipes >>
The more subtle flavours of chicken or turkey dishes can be overpowered by intensely flavoured beers, so think about pairing with lighter beer flavours. Lagers, pilseners, pale ales and ales can be great choices. Chicken is incredibly versatile, so think about the sauces and accompaniments as well. Spicy flavours match well with lagers and pilseners, which can also cut through rich or creamy sauces; zesty, herby flavours can be fantastic with the hop notes of pilseners or pale ales; richer, darker sauces go well with ales.
See Poultry recipes >>
As with fish, take care not to overpower the flavours of fresh seafood with a beer that is too strong in flavour, although seafood is generally less delicate and subtle than fresh fish so this is slightly less of an issue. Lagers and wheat beers are classic matches with seafood, and pair very well with creamy sauces. For zingy salsas and fruity accompaniments, consider pilseners or pale ales. Dark beers also pair very well with more strongly flavoured seafood – oysters and stout are a classic match.
See Seafood recipes >>
Often people immediately think of wine as the right match for cheese, but beer pairs extremely well with cheese and offers some brilliant flavour combinations. Because of the huge range of flavours in cheese, there is no one style of beer that is the right match for cheese. Here are some broad suggestions for different styles of cheese, but the possibilities are endless – think about the flavours you are wanting to complement or contrast, and the intensity of flavour of the beer and cheese.
Soft, rich, creamy cheeses are often well matched with lagers or pilseners, which can cut though the creaminess and cleanse the palate – think brie, camembert, cream cheese. Wheat beers can also be a great complementary pairing.
Tangy, nutty cheeses can pair very well with ales and dark beers, or specialty beers, especially those with nutty, earthy flavours from the malt, or with hoppier pilseners or pale ales.
Sharp, aged cheeses like an aged cheddar go very well with stronger flavoured lagers, and with pilseners or pale ales.
Strongly flavoured aged cheeses, and blue cheese are fantastic matches with dark beers.
The idea of matching beer with dessert can be a harder one for some people to grasp, but it can be one of the most interesting and rewarding beer matches. Desserts are often very sweet, and while this complements the sweet flavours of desserts, it can sometimes be too much of a good thing. Because all beers have a combination of sweeter flavours from the malts and more bitter flavours from the hops, beer can both complement and contrast the sweetness of desserts. Again, because of the huge variety of flavours in desserts, here are some broad ideas, but think about what flavours you are trying to complement or contrast in a specific dessert, and match accordingly.
Dark beers are a great match for any dessert with chocolate, coffee, toffee or caramel flavours. Stouts, porters and other dark beers will match the sweetness of such desserts while also offering a contrasting level of bitterness.
The nutty, caramel and toffee notes from the choice of malts in many ales will also complement nutty and subtly sweet desserts. Desserts with hazelnuts or walnuts are fantastic with amber ales or best bitters.
Wheat beers are also a great match for desserts. The unusual ‘estery’ flavours from the specialty yeast used in wheat beers can offer flavours of banana, bubblegum, Turkish delight, rose petals, and matches very well with fruity or creamy desserts. An apple pie with custard and a wheat beer can be a match made in heaven!
The unique flavours in specialty beers can also go very well with desserts. The sweetness and spiciness in Abbey ales works with sweet or nutty desserts like an ale or dark beer, and fruit beers or lambics can match in similar ways to a dessert wine.
A different approach to desserts is to aim for a primarily contrasting match. Pairing a sweet dessert with a very hoppy beer like an IPA is also an interesting match.
See Dessert recipes >>