Plenty of Room At The Table

Beer and food pairings are becoming more refined.

Beer and food pairings (pictured) are becoming more popular as  bars, restaurants, and retailers across the country promote different types of brews with specific foods, such as IPAs with fried foods.
Beer and food pairings (pictured) are becoming more popular as  bars, restaurants, and retailers across the country promote different types of brews with specific foods, such as IPAs with fried foods.

As the only brewery in the world awarded two Michelin stars, Chicago’s Moody Tongue knows a thing or two about pairing beer with food. And for brewmaster Jared Rouben, the perfect culinary coupling at Moody Tongue’s Dining Room and Bar comprises brews and dishes that take their cues from the seasons. “We call it seasonality on the plate, as well as in the glass,” he says. 

On-premise establishments and off-premise retailers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about beer and food pairings. Over the summer, for example, there’s an abundance of rhubarb and Rouben had plans to feature the vegetable in a saison, which would be recommended with a dish like the Dungeness crab with rhubarb side, offered on the Dining Room’s tasting menu. Following rhubarb season, strawberries would be spotlighted, Rouben says, likely in a Kolsch and paired with seasonal dishes featuring the fruit. Moody Tongue leans further into its gastronomic slant with its Aperitif pilsner ($8 a 16-ounce draft pour at the bar), which the brewmaster calls “a welcome beer, like a glass of Champagne and a nice palate cleanser.” It’s recommended pairing is Hokkaido sea urchin and Kaluga caviar on the Dining Room’s tasting menu. 

With India pale ales so popular today, Rouben and other beer professionals see plenty of opportunity for food pairings. “IPAs cut the richness of fried food,” says the Moody Tongue executive, who recommends the Juiced Lychee IPA ($9 a 14-ounce pour) with the crispy whole market fish at the bar. Other IPAs, meanwhile, are the perfect accompaniment to spicy dishes. Cody Thornhill, category manager for beer and spirits at California’s Raley’s Family of Stores, suggests customers pair balanced and malt-forward IPAs with spicy foods, and lighter, citrus-heavy, lower-abv IPAs with Mexican food. “Since not all IPAs are created equal, it’s important to tailor the pairings to fit the differences in IPA styles,” he says. 

Adam Dulye, executive chef at the Brewers Association, adds that the two most popular types of IPAs—West Coast and hazy— should be paired with different dishes. “West Coast IPAs are more versatile than their hazy cousins,” he says, and can accompany sticky barbecue dishes, as well as grilled salmon, halibut, steaks, and vegetables. “The malt usually plays off the base flavors and the hops either cut through the fat or add an herbal note,” Dulye says. With the addition of fruity and tropical flavors in hazy IPAs, cheeses like burrata and ricotta also work well, he adds. 

Classic beer and food pairings remain on trend, too. Jimmy Callahan, senior Guinness ambassador for Diageo Beer Co., notes that Guinness stout was part of the first recorded food and beer pairing back in 1837, when a British prime minister wrote of matching up the brew with seafood. According to Callahan, the stout—with a host of flavor profiles, including maltiness and bitterness, but no saltiness—complements the brininess of oysters, mussels, and fish and chips. And of course, Guinness stout and chocolate remain a pairing favorite. Callahan explains that because barley is roasted similar to cacao, coupling the brew with the confectionary helps “bring out the classic notes of toffee and coffee.” 

Promoting beer with food doesn’t need to stop at on-premise outlets; grocery stores and other retail shops can be perfect venues. Cross-merchandising brews with food items has emerged as the most effective tool at Raley’s to educate customers about beer and food pairings. Thornhill points to endcap displays that feature Asian food items along with Sapporo beer, as well as grilling- and chili-themed endcaps that contain recommended brews. Indeed, beer is increasingly finding its place at the table with food. “Beer is the most versatile and most widely consumed beverage,” says Callahan. “It makes sense to pair it with food.” He advises restaurateurs to offer diverse beers and advocates for including chef pairing recommendations on the menu, as well as collaboration between bar managers and chefs. Moody Tongue’s Rouben believes that when it comes to food pairings, there’s room for both wine and beer. “It’s all about balance and ensuring that the sum is better than the parts,” he says. “Beer should make food sing and vice versa.”