As winter keeps dragging its boots through the slush into February and March, no beer can cut through the cold and gray quite like a vibrant and flavorful stout. Ranging in character from light-bodied and lightly carbonated to viscous, rich and effervescent, stouts exhibit a dazzling array of roasted malt flavors that can include chocolate (dark or milk), coffee (light roast to espresso), black licorice, brown sugar, burnt popcorn and many more. Certainly not always the “meal in a glass” that many color-shy drinkers claim it to be, stouts light and heavy can take a comfortable place at the table, pairing exceptionally well with cheeses, desserts and a few other, surprising foods. Read on for some suggestions for pairing this classic dark beer style with foods you love.
- Artisanal cheeses. Dark, roasted flavors have a well-documented affinity for dairy, so don’t be shy about pairing stouts with cheese. Furthermore, stouts, especially stronger, sweeter ones, can offer a great contrast and buffer for the saltiness of cheese. Just pick a cheese with enough flavor to stand up to the big flavors of a stout, like an aged cheddar or a pungent Stilton. Some fruit-infused cheeses can also work well with stouts.
- Chocolate desserts. This may seem like a no-brainer when you consider the flavor profile of stouts, but the majority of restaurants and hosts continue to serve red wine with their chocolate. A somewhat-sweet, roasty stout is a much better match, with the chocolate and coffee flavors melding together in an altogether dreamy experience. For richer or more intense desserts, the bigger flavors and bite of an imperial stout will offer a welcome contrast in addition to the cocoa harmony. Try stout with creamy and fruity desserts as well: it’s hard to go wrong with this style after dinner.
- Beef stew. Stouts have a special affinity for beef, as the dark, rich flavors in each meld together and the beer cuts through the fat in the meat. A grilled steak or even a burger would be a great match, but I like a beef stew with rich and earthy flavors (don’t forget the mushrooms) that will contrast nicely with a stout’s roasted bite. For added harmony, simmer a little stout in the stew: you’ll thank me later.
- Oysters. Salt and chocolate are a brilliant flavor combination: if you haven’t tried it, pick up a salted chocolate bar posthaste. The salt balances the sweetness of the chocolate while enlivening the flavors of the dish (as it does in most foods). This flavor interaction goes to work when salty, briny oysters meet the chocolaty, roasted-malt flavors of a stout. Pick a dry, amply carbonated stout to match the bite of the sea from the oysters.
- Spaghetti with meatballs. This is a personal favorite, and one you don’t find mentioned in most of the beer-pairing literature. However, the stout will pair wonderfully with the meat (as outlined above) while playing off of the earthy, sweet and savory flavors in the tomato sauce, creating a wonderful contrast and harmony in the same sip.