The art of the perfect beer pairing

Dark Side of the Maple Porter and truffles. (Credit: David Benthal)

Gone are the days when beer pairings were limited to Cracker Jack at the ballpark. Craft beer has evolved from old school, watery macro-lagers associated with tailgating to a new realm of complexity that has earned suds a rightful spot at the dinner table. 

There are two different schools of thought when it comes to pairing beer with food. One strategy is to match similar flavors to augment the dominant flavor — think chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup. The other aims to heighten the sensation of contrasting tastes or mouthfeel — similar to how soft vanilla ice cream is paired with a hot fudge brownie. 

Whether you prefer a deep, brooding stout or a bright, effervescent kölsch, these suggestions will help you create the perfect pairing. And our editors have created a local pairing to help you bring these flavors to reality with takeout.

Porters

Mellow and smooth, porters are typically low in alcohol with hints of milk chocolate, cocoa and maybe a mild nuttiness. They are incredibly drinkable and are a perfect reward after spending a afternoon raking leaves or shoveling your driveway.

Worthy companions include dark chocolate and truffles where the sweetness of the candy complements the ale’s roasty smoothness. The lingering almond notes of marzipan also blend well, recreating a coffee with hazelnut creamer experience.

At your next fire pit try it with s’mores. The oozy, creamy goodness of the marshmallow and sweetness of the chocolate already create a delicious dichotomy with the dry, crunchy, biscuity graham cracker but pairing with an easy-drinking porter yields total gustatorial joy.

Editors’ Pairing: Dark Side of the Maple Porter from North Fork Brewing Co. with Olive Oil Sea Salt Truffles from North Fork Chocolate Company. This sweet and salty pairing brings together the flavors of a handful of local companies, including Lombardi’s Olive Oil and North Fork Sea Salt. The porter also features a New Hampshire maple syrup.

Brown Ales

Malty, nutty and slightly sweet, brown ales are typically low in alcohol and go with a variety of foods. The style works particularly well with dishes that are smoky, savory or fatty. Try it with battered fish and chips, a hearty beef stew or juicy brats. 

Editor’s Pairing: Milk + Honey Brown Ale from Moustache Brewing Co. with Scallop Bacon Ranch Quesadillas from Southold Fish Market. This combo marries one of the better known local craft beers with the best-kept seafood secret on the North Fork.

Indian Pale Ales

IPAs are often the craft beer geek’s choice for spicy food. The heat is balanced by the bracing bite of the hops, making a great partner for fiery Thai dishes and blazing wings. Word to the wise: Use caution. Go too hot and any flavor in the ale might get overpowered. The bright nature of IPAs also goes well with traditional cookout fare. It’s hard to beat an IPA with a cheeseburger or grilled ribs.

Editors’ Pairing: West Coast IPA from Long Ireland Beer Company with Phil’s Famous Buffalo Wings from Phil’s Waterfront Bar & Grill in Aquebogue. We could have gone a lot of different directions for the IPA, but the Long Ireland team really knows what it’s doing. As for the wings, there is no comparison.

Kölsch

Originating in the Cologne region of Germany, kölsch is bright and bubbly. It’s a favorite lawn mower beer and evokes images of sunny, warm days. Local oysters pair well as the salinity and mild mealiness of the bivalve contrasts with the carbonation of the kölsch. A meaty lobster roll works, too, as would a funky cheese plate. Brie de Nangis, Le Châtelain Brie and Brie Fermier are top choices for a cheese pairing.

Editors’ Pairing: Long Ireland and Crooked Ladder Brewing Company have both dabbled in this style, but it’s not something you’ll always find on tap here. But if you do pick up a kölsch, stop into The Village Cheese Shop on Love Lane and ask for Michael. He’ll help you pair it with the perfect cheese.