Not Your Garden Variety Food Pairing: Beer & Herbs


By Kimberley Hurley

Beer & Herbs

Food pairings are a thing. A big thing. And not just food and wine… food and beer dinners are popping up at breweries, festivals and restaurants everywhere. Guinness was one of the OG food pairing pioneers, with their Guinness stew, Guinness cheese sauce and Guinness Baby Back Ribs. (You drooling yet?) I’ve been to a 5-course dinner where 5 Dogfish Head beers were paired with an app, a salad, a main course, a dessert and then a cask of 120 Minute IPA was opened as the grand finale. (Hello Uber?) Little House Brewing Company in Connecticut recently did a flight of beers paired with four ice cream flavors. Perfect for the heatwave we were having, and yum!
With summer winding down, today we’re going to dive into our herb garden and discuss which herbs (and recipes) pair well with certain beer styles. You might be surprised!  

Basil & IPA

A summer favorite, Caprese salad made with juicy slices of fresh-from-the-vine tomato, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves – drizzled liberally with olive oil and balsamic vinegar – really hinges on the strong flavor of the basil. You might be surprised at how well the hoppy-ness of a NEIPA or double-IPA can complement the herbaceous quality of the basil and the creaminess of the “mootz.” Northwest hop flavors like citrus, pine and florals are found in West Coast IPAs and malty, balanced East Coast IPAs will still have that bitterness and hop-forward nature to stand up to the balsamic vinegar and to complement the basil without overpowering it. Hops and basil are practically cousins, right?

Tarragon & Tripel

The fruity esters, spicy phenolics and higher alcohol of a Belgian-style Tripel goes perfectly with roasted chicken seasoned with tarragon. The IBUs of a Tripel – between 20-45 – will stand up well to the strong flavor of the tarragon, and will help cut through any greasy/gamey qualities of dark meat in the legs and wings. Despite their complexity and strength, Tripels are easy-drinking with notes of orange, a bit of banana (not a defect!) and some spice, all of which pair especially with tarragon-roasted chicken.

Chive & Porter

The roasty, nutty, toffee flavors of a Porter are a welcome complement to the oniony flavor of chives. Most chive recipes involve roasted new potatoes or fingerlings, or twice-baked potatoes with sour cream, but you can add chives to a frittata, a tofu stir fry or anything that needs a little zip. The full-bodied, creamy, silky nature of a Porter – or the smokiness of a Baltic Porter – means it plays nicely with almost anything. Try garnishing a steak with a sprinkling of chives and see how the Porter helps the flavor to really pop!

Cilantro & Saison

Cilantro is a quirky little herb, you either love it or you hate it. (In fact, scientific studies have shown that to some people, cilantro is intolerable – it takes like dish soap. If that’s the case for you, skip the cilantro and just enjoy a crisp, light and refreshing Saison.) We think that dishes like cilantro lime shrimp or a fresh pico de gallo prepared with fresh cilantro go exceptionally well with the carbonation and ester spice taste of a quality Saison.
The most important thing to remember when pairing beer with food is – there are no rules. Go with what your taste buds tell you is right. You may uncover some surprises, but you’ll rarely hear “nah, that’s just wrong.” Lager with fish ’n chips. Wit and mussels. Porter and peanut butter. Experiment with different types of food – and beer – and enjoy yourself.

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