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.
There's a nippy chill in the air, at least here in the Northland where I live. It's time to turn away from the lighter fare of summer in favor of those cozy comfort foods that carry us through the winter. What could be more comforting than macaroni and cheese?
Mac and cheese is also the perfect food for the darker, fuller-bodied beers of the season—balanced beers with brown and orange hues that match with the colors of autumn.
Brown ales, especially the English variety, are an ideal partner for macaroni and cheese. They are robust enough to stand up to the creamy cheese sauce, but not so beefy that the combination becomes heavy. The nutty sweetness of the malt complements the flavors of sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses. Earthy English hops provide balance and cleanse the palate—not too bitter, but bitter enough.
Märzen beers are the ultimate autumn sippers, and they're great with macaroni and cheese. The caramelized flavors of the malt bring out a sweetness in the cheese while toasty melanoidins still connect with the nutty side. The crisp lager finish and balancing bitterness effectively combat the creamy richness.
You really can't beat the classic pairing of English pale ales with cheddar, so if you crave something in a hoppier vein, try an English IPA or Extra Special Bitter. The English varieties have a more prominent caramel malt profile than their American counterparts, and this helps the beer work well with the cheesy sauce in the dish. Earthy and herbal English hops are a better match to the sage in the dish's topping than are the bright, citrusy American hops.
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Michael's Beer Picks
Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar: Built on an English brown ale base, this beer has an extra hazelnut kick that really sings with the nutty flavors of the cheddar and gruyere cheese.
New Glarus Fat Squirrel: Another beer with a pronounced hazelnut character, this one has a bit more bitterness and roasted flavor than the Rogue beer. The added English hops give a shout-out to the sage and clear away the sauce.
Schell's Oktoberfest: A 2010 GABF gold medal winner, this is a beautiful example of the style. Toasty caramel malt brings out the sweetness of the sauce, while the spicy flavors of continental hops offer a tasty counterpoint.
Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen: The original Oktoberfest beer, Paulaner is light with a clean, dry finish. The subtle sweetness enhances the sauce, but really lets the cheese come through.
English Pale Ales
Samuel Smith's India Ale: This classic English IPA is bitter, but balanced and a great partner for cheddar cheese. The flavor-marriage with this dish creates an interesting floral offspring. It's sharp enough to cut through the creamy sauce.
Fuller's ESB: Smooth caramel malt with a balancing blast of bitterness and light, earthy hops make this a delightful mate for mac and cheese. It's another beer that pairs well with cheddar, bringing both sweet and nutty flavors to the table.
What beer do you drink with macaroni and cheese?
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. Follow him on Twitter at @aperfectpint