Match game: Pairing food and beverages

Minneapolis Star TribuneJanuary 28, 2014 

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A yeasty German wheat beer is the classic pairing with German sausages such as bratwurst.


For much of the time since “culinary” became a word that people actually used, the focus on beverage pairings has been on fancy dishes and wine.

Not anymore. Two most welcome trends – the craft-beer boom and consumers’ increasing comfort with the world of wine – have brought us to a point where we can speculate, and of course debate, not just whether to have wine or beer with everyday foods and Super Bowl party staples, but which type of each is best suited for them.

So here’s the lowdown on options for some of our favorite food-beverage combos.

No longer the province of the privileged, pairings put everyday food – and beer as well as wine – in play.


Beer: Burgers with the works benefit from the palate-scrubbing power of hops. A little bit of toasted or caramel malt is also good to pick up the browned crust on the meat. Try an American pale ale. It has hops and malt in spades, and the citrusy notes from the hops will complement the mustard and ketchup. Another option is a California common ale or “steam beer” such as Anchor Steam. It has a toastier malt profile and rustic, woody hops to scrape your palate clean.

Wine: The beef and bun matter less than the choice of condiments: mustard (plush merlot or malbec), ketchup (rich, peppery syrah/shiraz) or mayonnaise (buttery chardonnay, which also plays well with fatty beef). Not to mention mushrooms (pinot noir) and bacon with cheese (Cotes du Rhone red).


Beer: Vienna lager is a great choice for tomato-based pizza. Caramel maltiness counters the acidity of the sauce while subtle toasty notes pick up on the crust. It’s neutral enough to work with virtually any topping you layer on. If you like a lot of cheese, go with an American amber ale. It has the caramel malt, but with extra hops to clear away all that gooey goodness.

Wine: The toppings matter, of course, but as long as it has tomato sauce, sangiovese is an easy call. Chianti Classico and other reds from Tuscany fit under the “If it grows together, it goes together” mantra, deftly dancing with the tomatoes. If you favor ham and pineapple on pizzas, you’re on your own.


Beer: “If it grows together, it goes together” is what the wine people say. That works for beer as well. A yeasty German wheat beer is the classic pairing with German sausages such as bratwurst. Light-bodied yet richly mouth-filling, it matches the brat’s weight. Spicy notes from the yeast work with the seasoning of the sausage while fruity flavors offer a pleasing contrast. Effervescent carbonation clears it all away. If you don’t like the banana and clove flavors of German wheat beers, try an American-style wheat ale. It has the bready wheat flavor and high carbonation without the fruit and spice.

Wine: Again, the toppings can be your guide, but brats are more strongly flavored than burgers. That means a strongly flavored red blend with ripe fruit. Some of these are referred to as “sweet reds,” but they’re not sugary tasting, more in the bold vein, and usually have some major spiciness to them.

Buffalo wings

Beer: A classic American-style lager is the perfect partner for Buffalo wings. There is a bit of sweetness to counteract the heat and a high level of carbonation to clear it all away. Bitterness is low, so the combination won’t set your head on fire. For those who like it hot, an IPA will do the trick. Bitterness amplifies heat, so these bitter beauties will send the Scoville units soaring. The hoppy flavors of IPA will also go well with the blue cheese dressing used as dipping sauce.

Wine: Go with beer, especially if the wings are hot and thirst-inducing. But low-alcohol moscato generally is delightful with spicy foods. There’s just enough acidity to pierce through the sauce, and the ones with some effervescence cozy right up to the hot stuff, providing a singular sensation.

BBQ ribs

Beer: Reach for malt-forward beers that offer a bit of sweetness or roast to complement the caramelized and charred flavors in the meat and contrast the tangy, spicy flavors of the seasoning and sauce. For dry-rubbed ribs, try a German schwarzbier or black lager. Sometimes called a “black pilsner,” schwarzbier combines the crispness and balanced malt and hops of that style with just a touch of roastiness. The delicate malt sweetness and spicy hops touch on both the sweet and spice of a rub, and the hint of roast works with the smoky char of the meat. Saucy ribs call for something stronger and sweeter. The rich, caramel maltiness of doppelbock complements the caramelized sugars and contrasts the tomato tang of barbecue sauce.

Wine: Time for some rich and fruity reds, and none fit the bill as well as zinfandel. The jammy and juicy ones work best with dry-rub ribs, and the still-fruity but herb- and spice-tinged zins play well with slabs slathered in sauce. Quaff some water, too, because zins tend to be high in alcohol.


Beer: Though they can be massively filling, the flavors of most burritos are actually very light. The body and flavor of lighter German lagers are a perfect match; they pull out the flavors that are present, without overwhelming them. Spicy continental hops pump up the modest spice of salsa and bring out the fresh flavors of cilantro. Bready malt ties into the tortilla to hold the whole thing together.

Wine: Think Spain. Earthy/dusty tempranillos and garnachas have bright fruit flavors that liven up the meal, whether the primary filling is beef, beans or chicken. There’s also a light savoriness to both parts of this pairing. Another great Iberian option: sparkling Cava, the crispness punching up the meal.

Potato chips

Beer: With plain old potato chips a Munich Helles-style lager is light enough to let the chips come through and has just the right balance of bitter and sweet to give both complements and contrasts. The saltiness of the chips enhances the malty sweetness of the beer, while the beer’s bitterness washes away the oils from the chips. For a really interesting pairing, try barbecue chips with a Belgian dubbel. The emphasis here is on the interplay of sweet and spice, with deep, dark-fruit notes coming through from both chip and brew.

Wine: Marilyn Monroe’s favorite food-wine pairing was potato chips and Champagne. The crisp acidity in sparkling wines from Champagne, Italy, or California or wherever cuts through the fat in the chips and marries blissfully with the saltiness. Bubble up!

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