Ask a Cicerone: The Best Beer With Sushi
Editor's Note: Ask a what? A Certified Cicerone®. That is, a beer expert who has passed a particular certification exam administered by the Craft Beer Institute. Curious about beer certifications? Read more here.
We won't turn down a Sapporo when we pull up to the sushi bar, but if you have a good takeout source and you're eating sushi at home, you might have more options when it comes to beer. We asked our crew of beer-pairing pros for their advice: what's the best beer to drink with sashimi, nigiri, or sushi rolls? Can beer handle the ginger and wasabi?
Here are their top picks for sushi-pairing brews.
"There are several styles of beer that pair really well with sushi, but I've become slightly obsessed with Brooklyn Brewery's Sorachi Ace. It's a saison that uses the Japanese Sorachi Ace hop which gives it very distinct lemongrass flavors with hints of pepper and citrus, making it ideal for sushi, sashimi, and everything that comes with it (ginger, soy sauce, etc.). The beer is light and refreshing enough not to overpower the dishes and the high carbonation levels scrub the fish oils right off your tongue, cleansing your palate for every bite."—Anne Becerra (The Ginger Man)
"Left Hand Brewing's Good Juju is a crisp and clean ale spiked with a generous dose of fresh ginger. As someone who doesn't use the plated pink ginger available at sushi restaurants, this is the perfect way to get that same fresh sweetness without the fibrous chew. As an added bonus, the graham cracker softness balances perfectly with the tangy vinegar of the sushi rice and enhances the natural sweetness of the fresh fish. If a local craft beer isn't available, I have no problem with grabbing a Sapporo on draft. When in Rome... or Japan..."—Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)
"I think beers on the lighter end in general are better with sushi because it's generally pretty delicate. With straight sashimi I like something clean and snappy, like Spaten Helles. I've really enjoyed Rogue's Half-e-Weizen with sushi rolls, the ginger in the brew resonates with the pickled ginger, and the coriander and mild acidity are a nice compliment to the mild fish and sushi rice. With things like tempura rolls with mayonnaise I like a spicy, effervescent German style wheat beer, like Denison's Weissbier, to cut through the fat, but not overwhelm the fish."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)
"If you're eating sashimi, a hefeweizen is light enough, but the sweetness is there to bring out the sweetness of the raw fish and balance the wasabi."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)
"At one restaurant I found the whole Hitachino lineup and I discovered that each style served a different pairing purpose with the sushi menu. The Hitachino Nest White Ale is a really well made Belgian style witbier and probably the most versatile beer of the bunch. The delicate fish flavor of sashimi is showcased brilliantly alongside this slightly citrusy, light and sweet wheat ale. While the Hitachino Nest White is serviceable for pairing with more complex rolls, I discovered that their English style IPA called Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale worked better. The complexity comes from sweet English maltiness, herbal bitterness and a cedar aged finish that gives the beer a definite woody flavor. I found it to go very well with spicy crunchy tuna rolls and yellowtail and jalapeno rolls where the hop bitterness boosted the heat of the wasabi and pickled ginger then cooled it with those malts. The woodiness helped to bring out the meatiness of the fish as well. The Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale, a Belgian Golden Ale brewed with rice and sake yeast, will work with anything on the menu but truly brings out the flavor of the sushi rice and vinegar."—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)
"When pairing with sashimi you want to keep it simple so as to not detract from the delicate flavors of the fish and I would suggest a Helles Lager (like Weihenstephan Original Premium) because of its low bitterness and slight sweetness that can substitute for the lack of sweetened rice. For richer fishes such as fatty tuna I would go for a Belgian Tripel style beer (like Unibroue La Fin du Monde) as its high carbonation helps cut the richness while still remaining low in bitterness. Pairing with rolls definitely changes things and depends on what exactly is inside but for a basic California Roll I suggest an American Pale Ale (look for Firestone Walker Pale 31) which should pair nicely with the crab and avocado. Fans of wasabi and spicier rolls should be warned that overly hopped beers will compound the heat."—Tyler Morton (Taste of Tops)
"For sashimi, I prefer a lighter in body and flavor beer, perhaps a helles lager or American blonde ale. These will allow the fish to shine through, while offering that palate cleansing carbonation. Darker fish like tuna or salmon can stand up to a tad more hop flavor, but even then I wouldn't go crazy. Bitter hops can really amplify the spice of wasabi, but a little citrusy West coast American pale ale action is great for someone who likes heat. For someone who likes their rolls doused in salty soy sauce, a British pale ale has a nice malty, somewhat fruity balance to it. If you're rocking the tempura shrimp, I'd opt for a nice effervescent saison—the carbonation will balance out the oil, and the peppery citrus notes will work great with pickled ginger."—Lindsay Bohanske (Love Beer, Love Food)
"Sushi is a delicate food and for the most part should be paired with a delicate beer; possibly a Munich Helles such as Weihenstephaner Original or a premium American lager such as Full Sail's Session. With spicier rolls I might choose something with a little more malt character such as a Munich dunkel or possibly even a Berliner Weisse that would have the acidity to match the character of ginger and rice vinegar."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)
"For roe, tobiko etc I like very austere North German Pilsner. Something like a Lammsbrau Pils. For sashimi I LOVE the '1809' Berliner Weisse from Fritz Briem. It is absolutely perfect with buttery mild fish served raw. For rolls with seaweed I am now digging this new American take on saison that tends to be far higher acid and far more Brettanomyces-laden than the classic saison."—Sayre Piotrkowski (Hog's Apothecary)
"If I had to pick one style of beer that pairs well with most rolls and is usually readily available it would be Echigo Koshihikari. The lightness of the beer pairs well with most fish and really complements the grains of rice used by the chef. The Pilsner-like hop notes in the beer can accentuate the wasabi spice while the sweetness from the grain will quench the fire. Comparing sashimi to sushi rolls or nigiri, would be similar to comparing a NY steak to a hamburger. Sashimi requires a slightly lighter style beverage than nigiri or a sushi roll. When enjoying the pure, unadulterated flavors of sashimi I prefer a beer with some body but also some spice. One that I have greatly enjoyed is the Hitachino Nest Ginger Brew. With the addition of fresh Japanese ginger in the beer you can enjoy the fresh flavors of the fish without being tempted to add wasabi or soy sauce."—Bill Carl (Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii)
"I would lean towards a tart Berliner weisse or gose. The elements of these beers can complement or even replace certain components on a standard sushi menu. The spritzy, citric tartness can nearly take the place of pickled ginger as a palate cleanser between bites of delicate fish. The salinity in a gose helps mimic the sea water from which most of the fish is harvested. Overall, think light and delicate, much like sushi itself!"—Dan Parker (Better Beer Society)