How to Pair Beer and Dessert

Beer and dessert can be great friends. Chocolatey, caramelly, coffee-like and fruity flavors abound in your favorite bubbly beverages, and the potential for matching flavors opens the door to some seriously killer after-dinner pairings. Of course, pairing drinks with any food isn’t as simple as just matching flavors—there are other elements at play that can gloriously make (or disastrously break) the match.

Here are a few things to consider.

How Sweet?

The #1, can’t-forget-it, most important thing to evaluate when pairing beer with dessert is sweetness. The sugar in your dessert affects your perception of the beer you drink alongside it. A sweet dessert can throw a beer out of balance.

If the dish is perceptibly more sweet than the beer, it will taste starkly so when paired. Alongside a sugary dessert, the beer now tastes comparatively dry, and flavor elements previously held in check by sweetness light up and sit on your palate in an ugly way. Bitterness, alcohol, and acidity suddenly become more aggressive and can ruin a well-intentioned pairing.

Bottom Line: Be sure that the beer you choose is as sweet as—or more sweet than—its accompanying dessert to avoid disastrous taste interactions.

How Intense?

An often-repeated rule suggests that the beverages served with a multi-course meal must increase in intensity as the meal progresses. The theory is based on the idea that backpedaling in intensity will leave the beverage tasting weak compared to its predecessors. The result is that we often see desserts served with monster beers.

There’s certainly validity to the concept, but in execution, these pairings can fall flat. Barleywine, imperial stout and double IPA seem to find their way as meal-ending palate-crushers more often than is appropriate. They can work, but these beers are best reserved for the richest, fattiest, most mouth-coating of desserts. Imperial stout, for example, is classically paired with flourless chocolate cake. This pairing is brilliant: the dense, fatty, richness of the cake is enough to protect the palate from the aggressive bitterness and alcohol of the beer while the flavors seamlessly integrate. But keep that same imperial stout away from a plain piece of very dark chocolate—while the flavors may integrate, the harsh boozy flavors of the high-alcohol beer will dominate without a lot of palate-coating fat.

Bottom Line: When in doubt, pair desserts with beers that have a bit less bitterness and alcohol than your intuition might suggest.

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