When matched well, the right brew elevates and accentuates the flavors of many common seafood dishes. And that relationship is a two-way street.
When foods with gills, fins, tentacles and shells are on the menu, most of us default to wine. And for good reason; a subtle white or light-bodied red is a stress-free choice that pairs well with a variety of seafood delicacies. Beer is a bit trickier, but the payoff can be greater. When matched well, the right brew elevates and accentuates the flavors of many common seafood dishes. And that relationship is a two-way street. A style of beer you’ve never enjoyed on its own may prove a delicious revelation when married with the perfect aquatic mate. Here, some seafood-adept chefs offer a handful of their favorite combinations.
Oysters and Stout
Surprised? At first blush, the delicate flavor of oysters might seem a poor match for dark, rich stout. But give this combo a try, and you’ll see how the roasty, malty notes of the stout work wonders with the briny oysters, says Jenn Grosskruger, executive chef at Philadelphia’s Ocean Prime. One to try: Shuck It Oyster Stout by Great Lakes Brewing. Grosskruger says the beer’s salty finish is a perfect pairing for oysters.
Fried Calamari and European-Style Pilsner
“The light-bodied crisp profile of pilsner adds acidity that cuts through the richness of the fried batter,” says Lou Rossi, executive chef at Castle Hill Inn in Newport, Rhode Island. One to try: Sixpoint Brewery’s The Crisp provides an American-craft take on the classic European style.
Grilled Octopus and Session IPA
While higher-alcohol IPAs can be too bitter for seafood, a low-ABV session IPA provides just the right amount of bite and hoppy acidity without overpowering the flame-blackened goodness of the octopus. One to try: Samuel Adams Session IPA. “This beer’s bright citrus-hop aroma gives way to flavorful notes of grapefruit and pine, with slight herbal and lemon notes,” Grosskruger says.
Scallops and American IPA
Bitter notes can help level off and balance sweet ones. And that’s why the bitterness of hop-forward American IPA is a perfect match for the natural sweetness of scallops. One to try: Ballast Point Fathom IPA. This San Diego-based brewery is best known for its Sculpin. But its toned-down Fathom is a better (but still bitter) match for scallops.
Sea Bass and Farmhouse Beers
When it comes to food pairings, Belgian saisons (also known as farmhouse beers) are almost always safe choices. Their mildly tart, gently spiced flavors complement a wide range of foods. But sea bass may be saison’s best dance partner. One to try: Saison Dupont by Belgium’s Brasserie Dupont. Widely regarded by beer connoisseurs as the archetypal saison, this balanced brew is a great companion for sea bass (and most other fish, too).
Trout and Sours
Sours are, suddenly, all the rage among craft brewers. And while you may be put off by the intentionally tart, citrusy, acidic notes in these beers, you’ll reconsider if you have a sip alongside fresh-grilled or pan-sautéed trout. One to try: SeaQuench Ale by Dogfish Head. “This sour is brewed with black limes and sea salt, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to trout’s delicate flavors and flaky texture,” Grosskruger says.
Salmon and Saison
Back to saisons, a style whose complex character and moderate bitterness works well with a wide variety of foods. Fat-rich salmon is no exception. One to try: Hennepin by Brewery Ommegang. Grosskruger describes this brew as “dry and effervescent, with notes of pepper and citrus.” She says it’s a perfect mate for salmon.
Steamed Lobster and Belgian Tripels
Lobster is already rich and unctuous—qualities that are only intensified when dipped in melted butter. To cut through all that mouth-coating flavor, you need a beer that’s at once bitter, bright, and alcohol-dense. Belgian tripels are up to the challenge, Castle Hill’s Rossi says. One to try: St. Bernardus Tripel.
Swordfish and Gose
Swordfish is big and meaty in texture, but its flavors are soft and nuanced, Grosskruger says. It demands a brew that will stand up to its bulk while propping up its flavors. The herbal, tart-and-salty qualities of German gose do the trick. One to try: Victory Brewing Kirsch Gose. Brewed with tart cherries, this briny brew slashes through the swordfish’s meatiness without muffling its taste.
Tuna and Wheat Beers
Like swordfish, tuna steaks are at once meaty but also delicate. Hazy, refreshing, spice-heavy wheat beers make able companions, Grosskruger says. One to try: Allagash White. Portland, Maine-based Allagash is acclaimed for its interpretations of traditional Belgian styles, and its White lives up the hype.