The Fundamental Rules of Pairing Food and Beer

person dining beer and food

When you take the time to build a menu to entertain guests, impress friends, or cook for a loved one, beer might not be your go-to choice. With craft beer becoming a learned and respected technique and not just a collection of empty calories, there is quite a lot you can do with your favorite brew.

Pairing food and beer is especially fun for those of us that might not be as experienced as the sommelier at our favorite restaurant. Even when not executed to perfection, there are no solid “rules” to follow, like the “no red wine with fish” rules that follow wines. And even though these strict guidelines don’t exactly apply, you can still elevate a meal with a perfectly paired beer.

The Three C’s of Food and Beer Pairing

Are you familiar with the three C’s? No, you’re not buying a diamond, we mean the three C’s of food and beer pairing. Remember, it’s not about hitting all three C’s, but choosing one or two to create a meal that pairs well.


It’s true: opposites attract. One strong, dominant flavor matched well with a less taste bud tickling one, such as a sweet, rich food paired with a sour beer–or vice versa. Think milk stouts paired with briny seafood or sour beers paired with a sweet dish. This can be a risky choice in food and beer pairing, but when done correctly, it creates a deliciously unique dining experience.


Unlike contrasting, this technique pairs foods and brews with similar complementing flavors. Think of smoked food paired with a dark porter, stout, or amber ale. Try a light summer salad with a citrusy pale ale. And of course, pick your favorite rich dessert to pair with a malty or chocolaty beer.


Beverages aren’t always just a way of washing down your food, they can also be used as a palate cleanser. Use your beer pairing to complement overpowering flavors, like spicy or deep-fried foods. Think cool, refreshing beers and spicy Indian dishes or bitter IPA’s to complement rich, fatty dishes.

You really can’t go wrong when pairing your favorite food with your favorite brews. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different combinations to find one you really enjoy. For a few specific ideas, check out this beer and food pairing guide.