The proliferation of craft breweries in the past 25 years has led to countless choices in craft beer. The options can be overwhelming when you are trying to decide which beer to purchase for a dinner party or your own personal enjoyment. We have created this simple guide to craft beer pairings to help you understand which beer styles go best with certain dishes. We are also sharing the 2018 World Beer Cup gold medal winner in each category so you can try a prime example of each beer style.
Craft Beer Styles
Because there is such an enormous array of beer varieties available today, we have limited our selection to just seven well-known styles. If you are curious about other beer styles, or would just like to learn more about craft beer in general, we highly recommend visiting Craft Beer.com!
This lightly colored, exquisitely balanced lager remains one of the most loved beers to enjoy, and one of the most challenging for the brewer to create. Pilsners are characteristically light in color and have a very short finish.
Mass-produced American beers often bill themselves as pilsners, but true craft pilsners boast more flavor and a crisper finish. This incredibly drinkable beer pairs well with a wide range of meals, from heavily spiced dishes to traditional American fare like fried chicken or burgers.
World Beer Cup winner: Primadonna Pilsner – Rockyard Brewing Company
Typically lighter in appearance, wheat beer can be made using either ale or lager yeast, and American wheat beer can be brewed with at least 30 percent malted wheat. Like the traditional German hefeweizen, these beers are typically served unfiltered and can have a cloudy appearance when roused. Traditionally hoppier than its German cousin, American wheat beer differs in that it does not offer flavors of banana or clove, which is indicative of the weizen yeast strain. Nevertheless, the American wheat beer is known worldwide as a refreshing summer style.
Typically unfiltered, wheat beers tend to have a clean taste with a smooth finish. Many wheat beers are flavored with citrus, so keep this in mind when pairing a wheat beer with food. The delicate flavors of wheat beer compliment lighter fare like salads, pasta, and fruit desserts.
World Beer Cup winner: Dark O’ the Moon – Tilted Axis Brewing Co.
Characterized by floral, fruity, citrus-like, piney or resinous American-variety hop character, the IPA beer style is all about hop flavor, aroma and bitterness.
The most popular craft beer style in recent years, this extra hoppy beer stands up to strong flavors. Pair an IPA with blue-cheese topped steak, spicy tuna rolls, and other bold dishes. Avoid pairing IPAs with delicate dishes, as the strong bitterness of the beer may overpower the food.
World Beer Cup winner: Revision IPA – Revision Brewing Co.
American ambers are darker in color than their pale ale cousins, the presence of caramel and crystal malts lending a toasted, toffee flavor, along with the perception of a fuller body when compared to beers without such malts. The American amber is characterized by American-variety hops, which lend the amber ale notes of citrus, fruit and pine to balance the sweetness of the malt.
If you are unsure what beer to serve with your meal, an amber beer is a safe bet. This well-balanced beer style pairs well with just about anything. The malts are especially well-suited to grilled or seared meats, but this beer washes down pizza, fried food, and roast pork just as well.
World Beer Cup winner: Brooklyn Lager – Brooklyn Brewery
A bona fide English beer classic, English-style brown ale is easily one of the most iconic beer styles. Toasty, robust and with a bit of chocolate maltiness, the English brown ale is a meal in a glass, but offers unlimited opportunities for memorable food pairings. Neither flashy nor boring, the English brown is a beer with enough variation to keep devotees ordering them time and time again.
Slightly heavier and more flavorful than amber ales, brown ales shine next to hearty food like pork or sausage. Earthy and rustic dishes will be well complemented by a satisfying brown ale.
World Beer Cup winner: Big Ben Brown Ale – Bull & Bush Brewery
The Robust Porter features more bitter and roasted malt flavor than a brown porter, but not quite as much as a stout. Robust porters have a roast malt flavor, often reminiscent of cocoa, but no roast barley flavor. Their caramel and malty sweetness is in harmony with the sharp bitterness of black malt.
The rich color and flavor of porters comes from roasting the malts before brewing. This makes porters especially suited for roasted or smoked foods. Porters are also delicious alongside rich cheeses.
World Beer Cup winner: Porter – Jupiter
Strikingly bold and undeniably beautiful, the American stout beer style blends generous amounts of dark malts with American hops to offer an adventurous experience that is unmatched by other styles of beer.
As the darkest and heaviest beer on our list, stouts stand up well against game meats, steak, and stews. If you are looking for a beer to serve alongside a rich, chocolaty dessert, you should choose a creamy stout.
World Beer Cup winner: Black Cliff – Boise Brewing
If you would like to taste some of the best beer in the world fresh from the tap, you might be interested in our guide to the world’s best breweries. Make a trip to these breweries an item on your foodie bucket list!