Pizza and beer, never fear

In the heat of summer, most of my evenings are spent tending the grill, cold beer in hand. It's the perfect time to explore craft-brewed beers, those produced by independently owned breweries (places that make less than 2 million barrels annually). With endless flavors, aromas and textures, you can find a beer to pair with practically any food.

With more than 2 billion bottles of craft-brewed beer produced each year in the U.S., it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. Pizza is a good place to start.
Here are five perfect pizza-and-beer pairings to get you started:

1. Black Bean Nacho Pizza: Spicy foods need spicy beers--go for an India Pale Ale (IPA). We particularly like IPAs by Long Trail and Harpoon Brewery. If you're not a hop-head, the malty sweetness of brown ales work well with the sweeter elements on the pizza: our favorite is Wolaver's. Or try Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, a cross between the two styles.

2. Eggplant Parmesan Pizza: Sweet and bitter elements on this pizza need a similarly balanced beer. A pale ale or amber ale fills the bill beautifully--we like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and New Belgium Brewing Company's Fat Tire Amber Ale.

3. Garden Pizza: Look for a brew without overpowering flavors, such as a lager or a less yeasty witbier, so the pizza's fresh, subtle flavors can shine. Try Session Lager from Full Sail Brewery or Wolaver's Wit Bier.

4. Lahmahjoon Pizza: Break out the stout--the rich, sweet flavors from the lamb and pomegranate molasses yearn for an equally rich, sweet beer. Our favorite: Shipyard BlueFin Stout.

5. Nectarine & Prosciutto Pizza: A well-balanced beer like an Extra Special Bitter (ESB) works well with this multifaceted pizza. We particularly liked Redhook ESB, whose lovely nectarine-like aromas echoed the fruit on the pizza.

Recently I drove down to one of my favorite local breweries, Otter Creek Brewery in Middlebury, Vermont (they also make Wolaver's Certified Organic Ales) to talk to their president/owner Morgan Wolaver and brewmaster Steve Parkes about pairing beer with food. "The main thing to remember is synergy rather than conflict," Steve says.

The three main ingredients in beer--malt, hops and yeast--are the elements to consider when pairing. These tips will help you pair your favorite foods and beer.

  • Malt is sweet; it's often roasted, which caramelizes its natural sugars. "Beers like stouts and porters have coffee and chocolate notes from the malt, which pair beautifully with chocolate desserts," says Steve Parkes. And if you thought those beers would be too dark for summer, their robust character also goes well with barbecued meats.
  • The wide variety of hops used to flavor beer are either spicy, bitter or floral and frequently fruity. "If you're eating spicy food, there should be an element of spice in the beer you're drinking-- think Mexican food with a hoppy India Pale Ale," Morgan Wolaver suggests. Pale ales, less bitter than India Pale Ales (which were historically brewed with more hops to preserve them on long ocean voyages), are quite balanced and food-friendly.
  • Then there's yeast, which is, well, yeasty. (Maybe that's why beer and pizza go so well together.) American wheat beers, Belgian witbiers and German hefeweizens generally have stronger yeast flavors and are great with lighter foods, like salads and seafood.

By Carolyn Malcoun

When associate editor Carolyn Malcoun came to Vermont to attend New England Culinary Institute, she knew she didn't want to work in a restaurant but knew that she wanted to do something in the food industry. Luckily she discovered EatingWell, where she's able to combine her love of food and writing.

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