Food and Beer: Perfect Pairings

Experts from around the state share their knowledge about food and beer pairings to help us find the perfect combinations.

The Morris Tap and Grill
Ramstein Munich Amber Lager, brewed at High Point Brewing in Butler, is paired with the steamed mussels appetizer and grilled French bread at Morris Tap & Grill.
Photo by Tom Medvedich.

For discerning palates, beer is best served with food. The general rule is lighter beer goes with lighter food and stronger beer goes with heavier, heartier food. “If you pair the wrong beer, you won’t even taste the food,” says Morris Tap & Grill general manager Michael DeSimone.

Still, the rules for pairing beer are not as strict as for wine. “It’s not as cut-and-dried with beer,” DeSimone says. He offers examples from the restaurant’s kitchen, the domain of chef Eric LeVine, who won an episode of the Food Network’s Chopped in 2011.

For starters, the steamed mussels appetizer ($13)—which is served in a broth made from witbier, German wheat beer, with a side of grilled French bread—DeSimone recommends a light beer, such as Ramstein Munich Amber Lager from High Point Brewing in Butler. “It’s a very versatile beer,” he says, explaining that it is flavorful but does not overpower the dish.

Moving on to a heartier dish like Twisted Shepherd’s Pie ($17), which is made with lamb and beef, DeSimone selects Carton Brewing Company’s Decoy, a seasonal dark ale. “This beer holds up to it, pulls out those rich, meaty flavors,” he says. If a heavier dish is paired with a lighter beer, the flavor of the beer will be lost. To enjoy both the food and the beer, remember, “big food, big beer,” he says. Strong beers like porters and stouts are also good with anything smoked, roasted or braised, as well as chocolate desserts.

For a spicy dish like a buffalo chicken burger ($12.50), the choice depends on whether you want to turn the heat up or down. DeSimone goes with Cricket Hill Small Batch Double IPA. “The hops and bitterness of the IPA clean your palate every time you sip, so it exposes your palate to the spiciness every time,” he says. While hoppy beers, such as pale ales and IPAs enhance spice, beers with a higher viscosity and ABV, like a strong lager, will coat the tongue and calm down the heat.

For salads, salmon and tuna, DeSimone recommends a pilsner; for vegetarian dishes and citrus desserts, wheat beers and hefeweizens work best. But in the end, “it’s more about what you are looking for,” says DeSimone. When in doubt, seek the advice of a knowledgeable server, bartender or retailer.

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