Beer Pairings: What to Drink With Indian Food, Cajun Cuisine, Italian Red Sauces, and More
Karla Alindahao , CONTRIBUTOR

The classic axiom for pairing food and wine—red with meat, white with fish—doesn’t always apply. Not anymore, at least. But what are the rules for beer? Would the same lager work with steak and sushi? Does an Indian beer actually go with Indian food? And is there an ale you can drink with decadent desserts?

To answer these questions, I sought out Portland-based writer (and professional beer drinker) Jeff Alworth—author of the comprehensive and entertaining The Beer Bible.
Turns out, beer is more versatile than we might imagine. “When thinking about how to match foods and beer, there are a few things to keep in mind. In beer-producing countries, the cuisine is often well-matched with local beer styles,” Alworth explains. “Fish and chips demand a nice cask bitter while moules frites and Belgian pale ales appear to have been invented for each other. If you’re not in a beer-producing country, look for beers that will either harmonize with the flavors of the cuisine or contrast it. What you want to avoid are tastes that don’t relate to each other at all—tart and roasty, for example. Also, make sure to match intensities so a strong beer won’t overpower a delicate dish—and vise versa. And finally, for very rich and heavy dishes, consider a beer that is crisp and sharp—something that will cut through the food’s density.”

But if your local supermarket or specialty food shop is short on selection, Alworth has a fairly foolproof solution: “If all else fails, look for a saison or a pilsner: the two most versatile and food-friendly beers,” Alworth says. “Both are crisp, delicate, and balanced. Saison—a Belgian style—has a yeast-driven palate that includes fruity esters and spicy phenols but finishes very dry, perfect for many dishes. Good pilsners have a wonderful balance of lightly sweet malts, lightly spicy hops, and a crisp finish. They are rarely worse than adequate and are often perfect.”