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Pairing Food with Beer: Styles, Chart


How to pair food with beer depends on what kind of memorable encounter you’re aiming for. Are you looking to create harmony or to heighten?

First off, let’s tackle the 4 ingredients in beer. At a basic level it consists of barley, water, hops, and yeast,

Barley adds sweetness and hops bitterness, Due to beer containing many more ingredients than wine, the flavor palate is much wider.

Successful beer and food pairing rests on matching food characteristics with those found in beer. You don't want one to overpower the other. Typically your aim is to find harmony.

A general rule of thumb: light food with light beer. Bold food with bold beer. It's about matching strength. Strength is determined mostly by flavors although the percentage of alcohol plays a role as well.

What interaction are you aiming for?

A serious question that admittedly deserves a serious answer.

First, drink from a glass. Do it properly. Sense of smell drives taste. When we chew food, we send air up through our nasal passages carrying food odors. Beer intensifies much in the same way when consumed in a glass. 

With both, our perception is elevated and more strongly felt. Beer is best consumed between 46°F and 50°F. 

Let's break it down.

Food and Beer Interactions:

  • Sweet malty beers cut the heat. This would include: light lagers, amber ales

  • Richer foods: fried, cheeses are best suited for medium to high carbonated beers.

  • Higher Hops will heighten spicy foods


Alcohol accentuates heat. The higher the alcohol (ABV) the more you will feel its affects. Brace yourself..

Flavors originate from the main ingredient, the method of cooking; whether grilled, smoked, or roasted.

Additionally the sauce, fruits, or seasoning also produce flavors.

Start by looking for flavor bridges. In simple terms, identify flavors in the beer that will match flavors in the food. 

Our Beer styles chart illustrates what food generally falls into three interaction categories. 

It's called the 4 C's:

A. Complement: Characterized when food or beer elements match the other.

B. Counter: Describes when elements calm the intensity.

C. Contrast: Marks when one element intensifies the encounter. Watch it now.

Common contrasting traits:

  • Sweet

  • Roasted

  • Salty

D. Cut: Designates when hops and carbonation diminishes the impact of either fat or oil. The after-effect is that food feels less heavy as the palate is refreshed.

Common cutting traits: 

  • Carbonation

  • Sourness

  • Bitterness

  • Alcohol

Beer Styles 101 & Descriptions

Read about the various beer styles and what makes them unique.

  • Light Body Beers: Lager, Pilsner, Wheat

  • Medium Body Beers: Ale, IPA, Dry Stout, Brown Porter

  • Heavy Body Beers: Imperial Stout, Cream Stout


Light body beers are made for summer. These are called "thirst quenchers".

Compliments salads, light seafood, and starches


Blond ales have a great balance of hops and malt. A recommended beer style for those trying craft beer for the first time.

Complements sweet and spicy foods, light seafood, salads, fruits


Known as wheat beers, their characteristics include low hops, medium malt with a crisp finish. Typically a light to medium body, they are highly carbonated, (bubbly) and sweet. Hefeweizens are a refreshing beer to drink. They can go with any number of dishes from tacos to steak and eggs. This beer is served with a lemon wedge. 

Some American breweries are labeling American wheat beers as Hefeweizen which causes confusion. American wheat beers don't have the spicy or fruity flavors of a Hefeweizen and often contain a more hop character.

Complements light seafood, salads, fruits, sausage, chicken, light cheeses

NOTE: German Style will have banana and cloves notes. 


Pale Ales are the best selling craft beer in the U.S. They are distinguished by a citrusy and typically high hoppy style with a medium to dry finish. Compliments a wide range of food.

  • Cuts through salty, fatty, and sweet foods; cleanses the palate

  • Compliments smoked, steamed, or broiled

  • Contrasts by turning up the heat with spicy foods

IPA is similar with increased hoppyness. Serious business. Strong flavors will counter the bitterness from the hops.

NOTE: English Pale Ales have hops that lean towards earthy, fruity, and sometimes a little kick.


A style made popular by California and Pacific Northwest breweries. Amber ale is a well balanced beer consisting of equal parts malt and hops with a caramel richness.

Complements sandwiches, hearty soups, pizzas, pastas in red sauce.


A malt forward beer with very low hops. Compliments flavors that are nutty, savory, and roasted 

Compliments flavors that are roasted or grilled meats, starches


Brown ales get a bad rap. For some inexplicable reason, they are not high on the minds of craft beer lovers. Considered by many to be a universal food pairing beer. It's not hoppy and lower on the alcoholic scale than IPA which may explain why it gets no love. Notes of caramel, toffee, nuts, and biscuit. Brown ales are also malt forward beers.

  • Compliments steaks and Barbecue

  • Cuts through spicy with its sweetness


Probably the most misunderstood beer there is. Thinner in the mouth than a stout and less reliant on malt roast, it's drier and slightly more bitter.

Compliments steaks, smoked foods, braised dishes, mashed potatoes


Due to its high malt, it will feel fuller in the mouth. It's ideal to pair this hearty beer with dishes once the

Compliments grilled steaks, BBQ, salty foods

Beer Pairing With Dessert

Porters and stouts are a natural pairing with chocolate. If you really want to get wild, throw in a scoop of vanilla in a stout for a float! 

Others will look on with amazement and wonder what on earth....

Red Ale pairs well with cheesecake. Add Vanilla ice cream to drive it home.


The Hangout has casual restaurant bars in Orange County with rotating craft beers. With locations near Long Beach, we're a great place to relax. Our Bar by Seal Beach, The Hangout is steps to the waterfront.

We're at the top of Main Street home to over 150 local shops. 

Our second Bar in the Bolsa Chica District is Near Bella Terra Mall and the movies. There's Easy access right off the 405.  We serve New American food with southern inspiration. Our fresh micro beers are rotated throughout the year.

For a beer flight, stop in if you're in the area. Experience good food and warm hospitality. See our guides for things to do. Plan a vacation for Southern California and visit us!


For additional resources on beer and food pairing interactions, see the following resources.

  • Resource
  • How High End Restaurants Do It

  • Written by

    Nicholas McDonough

    Senior contributor to The Hangout Blog living in Southern California. Connect with