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5 foods to pair with IPAs

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The India pale ale, or IPA, is one of the most popular beer styles in the world, perhaps second only to the ubiquitous “American lager” or mass-market pilsner. Done properly, an IPA is a bitter, aromatic, somewhat malty work of art that balances loads of hop flavor with a refreshing drinkability. This balance of bitterness, sweetness and hops (usually earthy, citrusy, piney or floral) helps the IPA harmonize and contrast with a huge variety of foods, and the big flavors and slightly higher ABV mean it can stand up to richer, more flavorful food. With that in mind, here are five foods that will be dynamite pairings with most IPAs.

  1. Burger and fries or other greasy American food (pizza, wings, miscellaneous bar food). An IPA’s bitterness and pronounced carbonation is perfect for cutting through the fat of a hamburger with cheese and fried potatoes on the side. Choose a beer with a more pronounced caramel-malt sweetness to echo the caramelization created on the meat during grilling.
  2. Thai green curry or other spicy Asian food. Flavor-wise, hops resonate wonderfully with fragrant spices, citrus fruits and root vegetables, which all play a major role in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. The bitterness and carbonation of the beer will also help scrub chili-pepper heat from your tongue, keeping you going through spicy meals. Perfect!
  3. Spicy chicken enchiladas or other Mexican food. This is sort of a combination of the rationales behind pairing IPAs with American food and with Thai food – they can stand up to and cut through cheese, fat and spicy heat, while harmonizing with lime and garlic flavors. Try it once and you’ll never go back to Coronas with dinner again.
  4. Blue cheese or other funky cheeses. You’ll need the bold flavor and punch of an IPA to stand up to strong, pungent blue cheese, and you’ll also get some flavor resonance going with the herbal, earthy flavors in the cheese and in the hops in your beer. If your cheese is really strong, you’ll want to upgrade to a double or imperial IPA.
  5. Carrot cake or other sweet desserts. In food, bitterness balances sweetness, and vice versa. The IPA will blunt the sweetness of the carrot cake while the cake tempers the bitterness in the beer, creating a brand-new, dramatic flavor experience. IPAs are terrific with most non-chocolate desserts: just remember, the sweeter and richer the dessert, the bigger the beer should be. Don’t be afraid to use an imperial IPA if you have to.