Editor's Note: We're trying to find the best beers to drink with our favorite foods. Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is here to help.
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"I don't feel like cooking tonight. Let's grab some take-out." Who hasn't said that at least once? No matter how much you like to cook, sometimes you just aren't feeling it. In those instances, a delivery pizza or a jog around the corner for Chinese is just the ticket. While you're out, pick up some beer. (Or, if you're like me, peer into your well-stocked fridge and find something delicious to drink.)
But what beer to choose? Here are some general pointers to help you find a good match for whatever dishes you're ordering. (Of course, each of these cuisines is broad and diverse, and not every beer will go well with every dish!)
Beer Picks for Pizza
With most pizzas, there are three main things to think about; sweet and acidic tomato sauce, meaty umami, and heaps of gooey cheese. And don't forget about the garlic, pepper flakes, and herbs and spices. Amber lagers and sour brown ales can take on all of those flavor elements.
Vienna-style lager and German Altbier (technically not a lager, I know, but lager-like enough to include here) will pair well with almost any tomato-sauce topped pizza. The residual sugars in both of these beer styles offer a sweet balance to the acidic sauce. That sweetness combines with caramel and lightly toasty malt flavors providing both complement and contrast to enhance the meaty taste of sausage or pepperoni. European hop varieties have a spicy character that ties into the oregano and any other herbs on the pizza, but the hops are subdued enough in these beer styles that they augment without overpowering. Moderate levels of bitterness and a crisp finish cut through the rich cheese.
A Few Beers to Try: Great Lakes Eliot Ness Amber Lager, Alaskan Amber
Sour Brown Ales
Belgian sour brown ale or Oud Bruin comes at the pizza from an acidic angle. Here the tartness of the beer goes head to head with the tomatoes. The two seem to cancel each other out, making the whole less tangy. Dark fruit and balsamic flavors in the beer elevate the umami in the dish, and the sourness counteracts the weight of the cheese.
A Few Beers to Try: Liefmans Goudenband, Petrus Oud Bruin
Choosing Beers for Chinese
Chinese dishes offer so many different flavors—spicy or savory, salty or sweet, light or dark—it's a bit dangerous to generalize. But a variety of beers will highlight different flavors in the dishes you choose.
For spicy dishes, go with a malty lager. Czech-style pilsner, Munich dunkel, or American-style dark lagers all work well. These beers all feature rich malt that puts a damper on the heat while calling out the deeper flavors of sesame and soy.
A few beers to try: Lagunitas Pils, Ayinger Altbayerischer Dunkel, Shiner Bock
Amber Ale and Belgian Blond
For dishes that are on the mild side, try an amber ale or a Belgian blond ale. Both of these styles have a malty sweetness that offers a tasty contrast to the salty soy. Amber ales have nutty and caramel notes that play especially well with beef and pork dishes and dishes with sesame oil. The lighter, fruitier flavors of blond ales will match the sweetness of chicken dishes give a softening contrast to the sometimes bitter vegetables.
The meaty, smoky flavors of a German rauchbier are fantastic with the earthy tones of dishes with black bean sauce or mushrooms. The bacon-like flavor of smoke pulls out the subtle smokiness in the food, while underlying malt sweetness a contrast to the dishes' dark umami.
A few beers to try: O'so Brewing Rusty Red, Omer Blonde, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
Terrific Beer for Thai Food
Whatever beer you choose to go with Thai food has to be able to handle the heat. But underneath the fire is a complex blend of contrasting flavor elements; umami from fish sauce and soy, citric acid from lime juice and lemongrass, and sometimes the rich sweetness of coconut milk. That's a lot to take on, but beer is uniquely up to the task. Most of the time, you'll do well choosing a gose or a light-colored Belgian ale.
Gose (pronounced GO-zuh) is my absolute favorite beer to pair with Thai food. Gose is a tart wheat beer that originated near Leipzig, Germany. This unique style almost went extinct until it was revived by the Bayerische Bahnhof brewpub.
Lactic fermentation gives gose a bright acidity that latches on to the lemon and lime flavors often found in Thai food. That slight sourness also cuts the coconut and gives an amplifying contrast to the fish and soy sauces. Gose's secret weapon, though, is salt. Saline water gives the beer a subtle saltiness that really brings out the savory quality of food.
Beer to try: Bayerischer Bahnhof Leipziger Gose
Light colored Belgian ales also work really well with Thai food, including beer styles like saison, tripel, and Belgian strong golden ale. The combination of malty sweetness and yeast gives these beers a pillowy fullness that stands up to the flavor intensity of the cuisine. Numerous flavor hooks are provided by the unique yeasty sweet-and-spice character of these beers that includes hints of black pepper, clove, ginger, banana, citrus, and stone fruit. All of these beer styles are especially magical with basil.
A Few Beers to Try: Boulevard Tank 7 Saison, Duvel, Westmalle Tripel
Ideal Beers for Indian Dishes
Pungent spices are the hallmark of good Indian takeout. Cardamom, coriander, cumin and a host of others combine to make curries a tantalizing treat for both nose and tongue. To match that sensory mélange, you want beer that is equally aromatic and flavorful. American and English India pale ale is my favorite match for these dishes, though they can also be great with hefeweizen, pilsner, saison, and Belgian golden ales.
India Pale Ale
Like aromatic Indian food, India pale ale extends and irresistible invitation from the minute you pour it into a glass. The citrus, herbal, floral, and spicy hop aromas reach your nose before you can put the bottle down. As they meld with the spicy smells of curry it makes your mouth water. The flavor combination works much like that of the aromas. The various flavors of the hops sometimes complement and sometimes contrast with the spices in the dish. For curries with some heat, the hops fan the flames. India pale ales have beefier malt profiles and more residual sweetness than their pale ale cousins, so they stand up better against the flavorful and sometimes rich food.
A Few Beers to Try: Meantime India Pale Ale, Russian River Blind Pig IPA
Beautiful Beer Pairings for Burritos
When I lived in Chicago, take-out usually meant burritos from one of the many taquerias in my neighborhood. You'll want to find beers that play into the tortillas and the salsa, the beans, and whatever meat, from chicken to chorizo, is stuffed inside.
Lighter German lagers like pilsner and Munich helles are a perfect fit for a classic burrito. Spicy and perfumy continental hops pump up the modest spice of salsa and bring out the fresh flavors of cilantro and tomato. These beers bring some bready flavors that tie into to the tortillas, and they're crisp and clean enough to wash away the hearty beans. Lighter lagers are great with all varieties from chicken to carnitas, but for darker meats like carne asada you can try a Vienna-style lager. The added caramel and toasted notes will really set them off.
A few beers to try: Victory Prima Pils, Three Floyds Gorch Fock, Schell's Firebrick
And Many More
Of course, these are just a few suggestions. What's your delivery dinner of choice? What beers do you like with it?
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