Every beer lover has a favorite beer-and-food combo. Perhaps it’s an American IPA with a good cheeseburger, or a Saison with sushi. Maybe it’s as straightforward as a dozen Buffalo wings and a pint of American Lager. No matter where your tastes run, that familiar food item just wouldn’t be the same without its beer counterpart. Few of us, however, can explain why our favorite combo works so well. Let’s take a moment to examine why beer and food are so friendly, what makes certain beer styles easier to pair, and why others may be more challenging.
Many of our favorite flavors owe a huge debt to fermentation. When you think about fermented foods, funkier items like sauerkraut and kimchi might come to mind. But don’t forget bread, cheese, yogurt, pickles and anything that incorporates vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire or miso. Beer too, is fermented. Esters, phenols, organic acids and other flavor-driving compounds created during fermentation are shared by both beer and food.
Another characteristic beer shares with food is that both are usually cooked before being consumed. From kilning malted barley to mashing grain with hot water to boiling wort, beer and its primary ingredients are cooked multiple times during the malting and brewing processes. Exposure to heat results in a complex chain of delicious chemical reactions collectively called the Maillard reaction. Of course, much of the food we eat is cooked. Being able to draw on the complementary flavors created in both beer and food during cooking is a huge asset when creating impactful flavor interactions.
Beer Can Taste Like Anything
We could go on all day about why beer and food are perfect companions, but let’s settle for just one more: beer can taste like anything. The X-factor that makes beer so versatile is the willingness of brewers to utilize an endless range of ingredients to impart unique and exciting flavors to their creations. Herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, coffee, chocolate and even assorted meat products (often inadvisably) are utilized – and that’s just scratching the surface. With such a vast array of flavors available to the average beer drinkers, the number of potential combinations created when food is added to the mix is simply staggering. Frankly, you’re only limited by your creativity.
The Yin & Yang of Pairing
Understand that some beer styles (as well as individual beers) are inherently easy to pair, while others may be more challenging. For example, high hop bitterness (although it can be pleasing on the palate to IPA-lovers) has a tendency to overpower subtle flavors and accentuate spicy heat. High alcohol can do the same. Does this mean we, as conscientious beer drinkers and gastronomes, should never try to pair any dish with a Double IPA or similarly assertive beer? Certainly not. Some of the most intriguing pairings involve aggressively-hopped and/or higher ABV beers, but being aware of a potential pitfall is important.
Other beer styles are notoriously hard to mess up. Take the Belgian Witbier, for example. Its moderate alcohol level, low bitterness, dry/spritzy nature and common use of familiar culinary spices make it a good go-to. Coriander and Curacao orange (aka “bitter orange peel”) are most commonly used, but popular examples of witbier also utilize other spices, such as cumin, grains of paradise, and nutmeg, just to name a few.
Blue Moon Belgian White
Blue Moon Belgian White Ale is a uniquely American take on the style, but one that’s still influenced by classic recipes. The familiar aroma of coriander is prominent, as is the soft, doughy-wheat-malt character, but Blue Moon Belgian White differs from classic examples in that it utilizes fresh versions of Valencia and Navel orange peel rather than Curacao. This provides a more prominent, fruity-citrus character rather than a perfumy, floral one.
This makes Blue Moon Belgian White a pairing chameleon, just as at-home with Latin American dishes as it is with Southeast Asian ones. Bright, fresh flavors as well as spice (both hot and mild) are easy layups when deciding on a dancing partner for this beer. Blue Moon Belgian White’s moderate alcohol, low bitterness and subtle malt sweetness work well to balance spicy heat rather than agitate it, while coriander and citrus complement the complex spice aromatics of Thai curry and spiced pork empanadas. You’ll especially enjoy the way this beer interacts with coconut milk, elevating its natural sweetness.
Coconut-Curry Marinated Shrimp
Now, you know the rule: there is no bad pairing so long as you like it. But there are some pairings that most of us will prefer most of the time if we have a choice, and we’re putting Coconut-Curry Marinated Shrimp at the top of that list. The marinade creates tender, sweet grilled shrimp with hints of curry flavor that aren’t too spicy. The fresh orange peel and bright floral notes of fresh coriander in Blue Moon Belgian White Ale amplify and add to the curry spice, while the subtle sweetness in the beer complements the coconut and grilled shrimp.
Prep Time: 10 min + marinating
Cook Time: 5 min
- 1 (15oz) can Coconut milk
- 1 (12oz) bottle Blue Moon Belgian White Ale
- ¼ cup Yellow curry paste
- 1 Tbsp Honey
- 1 Tbsp Lime juice
- 2 lb Extra jumbo (16/20) shrimp, shell on
- Lime wedges and cilantro leaves, for serving
- In a bowl, stir to combine coconut milk, beer, curry paste, honey and lime juice. Place shrimp in marinade and toss to coat. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours.
- Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. Remove shrimp from marinade and grill, flipping occasionally, until cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with lime wedges and garnish with cilantro leaves.