Editor's Note: We're trying to find the best beers to drink with our favorite Serious Eats recipes. Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is here to help.
Salads are among the world's perfect foods, especially this time of year. They can be sweet, tart, savory, spicy, herbal, fruity, and funky, sometimes all at once. But with so many simultaneous flavors, salads can pose problems when trying to choose the perfect beverage. The acidity of a vinaigrette, for instance, and the bitterness of certain greens can be hard to partner up. And how do you decide which flavors to focus on when there's so much going on?
Though wine might be knocked out by a salad, beer can stand up to it, and offers a wide range of flavors to partner well with anything you might slice, dice, or toss. Here are some simple rules of thumb to keep in mind when you make your selection.
Keep it on the lighter side: Lighter-weight salads need a beer to match. I reach first for pilsners, hefeweizens, and American wheat beers.
Acid + Acid = Less Acid: While this seems counter-intuitive, pouring an acidic beverage with acidic foods lessens the perception of acidity in both. Sour Flanders red ales are amazing with pickled herring, for instance. Pick beers with some pronounced acidity to serve with strong vinaigrette. Lambic, gueuze, Berliner weisse and gose all work well.
Hops and Fizz Cut Fat: For salads with fatty components, whether that comes from avocado, mayonnaise, or meat, hoppy and fizzy beers will leave your palate feeling clean and fresh. Consider pilsners, saisons, or American-style pale ales.
Pick an Anchor Flavor: With some salads there's so much going on that it's easy to become a deer in the headlights. Look at all the ingredients of your salad, then pick a flavor and go with it. It might be the dressing or it might be a light crumbling of blue cheese or bacon. Focus on choosing a beer that will draw out that flavor.
To provide specific pairing examples I have chosen four recipes from Serious Eats Recipes. These salads fall into four broad categories; leafy salads, mayonnaise salads, legume-based salads, and salads with fruit in them.
Beers to Pair with Leafy Salads
Let's start with the basics: a simple salad of lettuces, herbs, and vinaigrette. To pick a beer that goes well with the dressing, start with a Berliner Weisse. The lactic tartness of this German wheat beer style will tone down the dressing and let the other ingredients come through. Another option is to pick a beer that goes with the herbs. The fruity and spicy yeast character of a hefeweizen will pull out the flavors of the tarragon, chervil, and and chives in this salad, and it has just enough acidity to help keep the dressing at bay.
Bayerischer Bahnhof Berliner Style Weisse: Not many breweries make Berliner weisse, so the choices are limited. This beer is delightfully light with great lactic tartness and vinous fruity notes.
Ayinger Bräu Weisse: A classic German wheat beer. It's light but full-bodied and bursting with the characteristic banana, clove, and bubblegum flavors of the yeast. Light citrusy overtones balance the dressing.
Beers to Pair with Mayo-Dressed Salads
Old-fashioned potato salad is one of my favorites. It's so delectably rich and creamy, but the flavors remain fairly subtle. You'll want a beer with enough hoppy bite to cut through the rich dressing, but not so much as to dominate the pairing. For my money you can't go wrong with a crisp German-style lager.
Victory Prima Pils: This is one of the best German-style pilsners on the planet. It's bitter, but balanced, with delicious spicy hops through and through. While the hops cut the fat, the bready pilsner malt grabs hold of the flavor and doesn't let go.
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold: Bigger malt character makes this beer a bit less bitter than a pilsner, but it's still plenty hoppy to tackle the creamy dressing.
Beers to Pair with Legume-Based Salads
The savory Mediterranean flavors and mouth-coating protein in this Chickpea Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette call for an effervescent beer with spicy and herbal flavors: a saison is perfect. Spicy black pepper and herb flavors coupled with high carbonation and a dry finish will complement the salad while balancing the richness of the beans. Fruity and floral overtones will talk to the dressing.
Summit Unchained #7 Honeymoon Saison: Bone-dry and bitter, the beer's floral flavors and peppery yeast character are a great match to the Mediterranean spice in the dish.
Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale: This saison features a complex blend of peppery spice, earthy hops, and citrusy acidity. A good bit of malty sweetness even pulls out some of the sweeter elements of the salad.
Beers for Salads with Fruit
Once you add fresh fruit to a salad, the game changes. This Peach Caprese Salad combines fragrant peaches with basil, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic. A fruity American wheat beer will complement the acidity and fruity flavor in the salad, and the clean bready character and dry finish it a great match for fresh mozzarella.
RJ Rockers Son of a Peach Wheat: Wheat takes a backseat to peach in this beer. The huge aroma and flavor of fresh fruit will really grab the peaches in the salad.
Short's Agave Peach Wheat: Bready wheat comes through more fully on this one. Agave and peach combine to give almost tropical fruit flavors. A slight herbal hop note in the finish will take hold of the basil.
What beers do you like to drink with salads?
About the Author: Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is the lead educator and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts beer tastings for private parties and corporate events. His beer musings can be read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, his own Perfect Pint Blog, The Hop Press at Ratebeer.com, the City Pages Hot Dish Blog, and in respected national beer magazines.