Today's beers offer complex and intriguing flavors and features. With subtle and robust flavors that pair admirably with food -- better than wine does in some cases -- craft brews invite partygoers to venture beyond sports-focused drinking and into the realm of sophisticated party mingling. To get to know beer better, you should learn the difference between lagers and ales. Most beers fall into one of these categories.
Lagers are fermented in cooler environments, where toasted or sweet malt flavors characterize the brew. Lagers are clean, refreshing beers with typically light aroma and flavor. They are best served cold and can pair easily with a wide variety of foods.
Ales are fermented at warmer temperatures, resulting in complex, flavorful beers that grip the palate and leave a longer aftertaste. Many are served closer to room temperature and contain rich aroma and flavor. Their complexity makes pairing more selective but highly rewarding.
Specialty beers include the remainder of beers that aren't categorized as ales or lagers. Lambics and fruit beers are becoming increasingly popular in this category.
Within the broad categories of ale and lager, individual styles have specific characteristics. Those characteristics influence how beer pairs with food.
Pairing Beer and Food
The perfect pairing of beer and food makes both elements shine. In our free guide, available below, you'll discover tips for creating ideal beer and food matches. For more about individual beer varieties, check out the following slides. Each includes recommendations for delicious food pairings with each beer variety.
Throw a Beer Party!
It's fun to try a series of beers at your party. Get our handy-dandy printable to record your favorites.
Lagers: American-Style Amber Lager
This medium-body beer is noted for its rich caramel-like flavors. It has a smooth, light feel in the mouth and a clean, crisp finish.
Food Pairings: Barbecued chicken, barbecue-sauced wienies, grilled steaks, fried calamari, pizza, nachos, and chips
Lagers: European-Style Pilsner
Pilsners are fairly hoppy brews with a rich, full-flavor body and crisp, clean finish. They're among the most thirst-quenching beers.
Food Pairings: Dips, hero sandwiches, popcorn, spice-rubbed meats, and Indian, Mexican, and Asian dishes
Lagers: Oktoberfest Lager
This reddish-amber brew is masterfully blended with roasted malt, which creates a harmony of sweet flavors, including caramel and toffee. Traditionally brewed for fall release, some brewers offer this full-bodied style of lager year-round, but it's still most popular during the autumn.
Food Pairings: Grilled meats (especially bratwurst and pork roast), poultry, pretzels with mustard, potato wedges, and pizza
This amber-hue beer is typically strong (6 to 7 percent alcohol content) with a robust malt character.
Food Pairings: Chili dogs and pretzels with mustard
A beautiful straw-blond lager, Helles is light, crisp, and refreshing with subtle flavors and a mild hoppiness.
Food Pairings: Grilled sandwiches, shellfish, roasted chicken, and pork roast
This reddish-brown lager has pleasant fruit-forward flavors and a mild sweetness that is balanced by roasted malt notes.
Food Pairings: Meatballs, sliders, and chocolate
Ales: Pale Ale
This crisp, light- to medium-bodied brew has a malty sweetness balanced by hoppy bitterness. India Pale Ale and English Bitter are popular choices.
Food Pairings: Buffalo wings, bacon-cheeseburger sliders, burritos, pizza, bacon-enhanced dishes, and aged cheddar cheese
Ales: Wheat Beer
These brisk ales contain distinctive fruity flavors with ripples of spice, such as clove or coriander.
Food Pairings: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Caribbean dishes
Ales: Belgian-Style Witbier
Similar to an American wheat beer, this ale has lively carbonation with hints of citrus, coriander, and other unexpected spices.
Food Pairings: Green salads, poultry, smoked salmon, crab cakes, and bacon-wrapped appetizers
Ales: Barley Wine
This strong ale (6 to 12 percent alcohol content) ranges from copper to dark brown in color and tastes sweet and malty with moderate bitterness.
Food Pairings: Full-flavor cheeses and dark chocolate
Ales: Scottish Ale
Wee Heavy, as this pale ale is known, is as strong as Barley Wine with a sweet flavor reminiscent of toffee.
Food Pairings: Cheeseburgers, spicy wings, and Mexican pizza
From fruity to bitter, these ebony-hue beers are roasted with malts and perfectly balanced with hops for a bittersweet finish.
Food Pairings: Charbroiled steaks and burgers, hearty soups and stews, and blackened meats, as well as brownies and cheesecake
Nearly black, this dark beer contains strong flavors of roasted grains, toffee, coffee, and chocolate with a mild undertone of hops.
Food Pairings: Stuffed mushrooms, oysters, barbecue, and sharp cheddar
What Type Is Your Beer?
Most of us know beers by brand names rather than variety. Check out this list of beer brands identified by type to make it easy to shop for beers to complement your food.