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Food and beer pairings

This Elle's Brown Ale pairs well with a medium-rare pan seared strip steak. Photo illustration by Huy Mach,

Red meat with red wine. White wine with fish. That’s so passé.

The big trend in pairing beverages with food these days — and for the last several years — is beer. With possibly even more varieties of beer available than wines, you can choose precisely which beer goes best with your meal.

All it takes are a few simple guidelines — along with the understanding that you don’t have to follow the guidelines to come up with great combinations of beer and food.

“I would recommend trying different options and finding out what works best for the consumer,” said Ryan Lanbolt, head brewer at Ferguson Brewing Co. “Just because something is textbook doesn’t mean you will enjoy it the best,”

Still, for newcomers and people wanting an overall sense of how to begin, a few guidelines may be helpful.

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is you want a beer that doesn’t overpower the food you are trying to pair it with, and complements the flavor and intensity,” said Adam Patterson, assistant brewer at Main Street Brewing Co.

“Is it a fish dish? Is it delicate? Is it something that is very powerful and has strong flavors? Like a wine pairing, you want something that is not going to dominate in power and intensity.”

Said Lanbolt: “You pair intensity with intensity. A hefeweizen or a Belgian wit (both are wheat beers) with a salad or a lighter dish, such as seafood. Lighter beer with lighter foods. The opposite side of the spectrum would be heartier beer with heartier foods, such as a stout with pot roast or brown ale with a steak.”

Let’s get into specifics. How about spicy foods. What beers pair well with them?

“Hoppy beers pair well with spicy foods,” said Stephen Hale, Schlafly Beer’s ambassador brewer.

The classic beer with a lot of hops is the India Pale Ale, also called an IPA. All three of our experts recommended it with spicy dishes, with Main Street’s Patterson specifying that it goes particularly well with curries.

Another consideration: “Higher-alcohol beer tends to pair well with spicy foods because it tends to wash the heat away,” Patterson said.

Lanbolt added that while a hoppy beer might intensify the heat of spicy food, a malty beer such as a red ale or a brown ale would calm it down.

Patterson likes malty brown ales with grilled meat, particularly red meat. Steak in particular pairs well with brown ales and light brown ales, he said, but he also enjoys them with lighter drinks such as amber lagers and amber ales.

Lighter beers, such as mild pale ales and summer lagers, would go well with a meat-and-cheese platter at a picnic, said Schlafly’s Hale. And a mild pale ale is a classic pairing with the ultimate pub food, fish and chips.

In fact, he said, it is always a good idea to match a beer with a food from the same country. In this case, both pale ale and fish and chips originated in England.

For the St. Louis favorite, pork steak, Hale suggested a continental lager, such as a Pilsner.

And don’t overlook American lagers such as Budweiser, Miller or Coors, which are frequently dismissed by craft beer aficionados. “The most frequently consumed beers in the world are lighter lagers,” he said. “It’s probably safe to say they go with everything.”

But what about dessert?

Stouts are a good way to go, the experts agreed. Dry stouts should be reserved for something hearty, such as a stew, Patterson said. But sweeter stouts, such as oatmeal stouts, are made for many desserts.

The only important question to answer, according to Hale, is “does it please your palate?”

“Choose what you like,” he said. “You might stumble at first, but you might come up with magical combinations.”Spicy dishes -- — IPA

Grilled red meat — — brown ales, amber lagers

Meat and cheese platter — mild pale ales, summer lagers

Pub food — mild pale ales

Pork Steak — continental lager

Everything — American lagers

Dessert — stout