By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Dec 14, 2017 at 2:08 PM

For folks in the beer-drinking Midwest, beer is a part of everyday life. In fact, it’s likely that most of us will have a selection of beer around during holiday gatherings and family meals. 

But how do you get the most of your experience by pairing the beer you have with the food you're going to serve (or eat)?

We talked with Megan Mares, trade brewer for Miller Brewing. She handles training and beer education for both employees and clients, and she offered up quite a bit of food for thought when it comes to creating great beer pairings – for the holidays or any day.

"People don’t realize that it’s really simple to create great pairings that really take your meal to the next level," she says. "Part of what makes it easy is that, intrinsically, beer shares so many commonalities with food. I always tell people that when you’re pairing beer and food, one plus one equals three. A great beer paired with great food will bring out both the best in the beer and the food. And there are always interactions that really make the wow factor happen."

Balancing flavors

Mares says that paying attention to the balance of flavors between the food and beer is an easy way to being approaching pairings.

"When starting to pair beer and food together we look at two major aspects. The first is balancing flavor intensity. This is based on the idea being that neither the food nor the beer outshines the other one. Having something like a Miller Lite and a spicy Thai dish would be incredibly unbalanced, you would never be able to taste the aspects of the light lager with so much going on the in the dish. A good rule of thumb is to match the color of the beer with the color of the protein being used. Examples would be a Belgian Wit with a seafood dish or an Oktoberfest with a brat."

Minding the three C's

However, the advice on balancing flavors is just the tip of the iceberg.  It's also helpful to consider the three C's: cut, complement and contrast.

"Cutting power in beer refers to the ability of a brew to refresh the palate between bites," she says. "Three factors including carbonation, the solvent power of alcohol and the natural acids found in hops all contribute to breaking down the heaviness from protein or dairy that can bog down your taste buds."

"Complement refers to the matching of the flavors in food and beer," she explains. "A good example would be things like the chocolate malt used in porters and chocolate in brownies. Matching those flavors can result in a great beer pairing."

She admits that contrast is really where the magic happens. "Matching flavors that tend to clash or be opposed can cause some really neat reactions. The sweetness found in most pumpkin beers is a great match for the heat from a great chili recipe. Similarly, the bitterness from salad greens like kale benefits from the balance of sweetness that comes from a wheat beer.

"The great thing about using these ideas is that they’re meant to be guidelines and there is not absolute ‘correct’ answer, you just have to have fun and practice paring to and taste them yourself!"

Here are a few pairings to get you started.

Miller High Life

"High Life, the Champagne of beers, is a classic American lager and a necessity at most holiday parties. It’s also the perfect beer to pair with appetizers; it has great carbonation to cut though fatty or fried foods and enough malt sweetness to combat salty or spicy foods. I love pairing this with spinach artichoke dip or deep fried cheese curds. You can also make this awesome pizza dip that’s always a crowd favorite. The bubbly carbonation cuts through the cheesy mozzarella while the caramel malts provide a nice bready contrast."

[Get the recipe]

Crispin Cider

"Crispin Cider is a great alternative to people who may not be crazy about beer. The fresh and floral apple notes and the tart acidity bring some unique qualities to paring it with food. Crispin comes in original, blackberry and pear varieties; you can’t go wrong with any of them! Bacon-wrapped chestnuts are great with cider; the pork and apple components work well together while the acid cuts right through the sweetness from the nuts and brown sugar. Crispin Blackberry is a nice touch to any fruit salad; the berry profile goes with a variety of flavors while the acidity tends to brighten the dish up. My all-time favorite things to pair with Crispin Pear are these burrata and peach crostini, which are so simple to make. The sweet-salty combination is amazing, and the carbonation helps to cut through the thick cream cheese."

[Get the recipe]

Leinenkugel’s Pomegranate Shandy

"Pomegranate Shandy is the newest variety to join the Leinenkugel family, the traditional Weiss beer and ripe fruit flavors are a match made in heaven. This beer goes great with desserts like dark chocolate truffles; the tangy citrus flavors are a stark contrast to the bitter chocolate notes while the fizzy carbonation helps to cleanse the pallet. It also works well with maple roasted carrots; the sweetness in the beer pairs with the maple syrup used in the glaze and the naturally acidic profile is a nice contrast to the earthy notes of the vegetable. This also goes wonderfully with this easy baked brie. The pomegranate brightens up the thick creamy cheese and offers similar flavors to the caramelized pears."

[Get the recipe]

Blue Moon Belgian White

"Blue Moon Belgian White is one of the friendliest pairing beers on the market. The subtle sweetness allows for a nice contrast in most spicy, salty or bitter dishes while the orange and coriander used in the brewing process offer nice harmony to the fruit and spices that are used in cooking. Serving it with a nice winter salad provides a nice citrus compliment to the cranberries or other berries used while contrasting some of the earthy notes in the greens.

"Sweet potatoes are another favorite of mine; pairing them with this Belgian Wit allows the spices used in the beer to complement similar flavor profiles of the ones used in the dish while the citrus quality of the beer brightens the heavy starch in the potatoes. A home run is using any sort of seafood; the beer is delicate enough to match the flavor intensity and the citrus and sweetness enhance the natural flavors. In fact, it's an amazing match for crab cakes."

[Get the recipe]

Leinenkugel’s Vanilla Porter

"Last but not least is my hands down favorite winter beer, Leinenkugel Snowdrift Vanilla Porter. It makes a phenomenal pairing with desserts; the similar chocolate malt flavors can be found in brownies, truffles and holiday cookies. It also lends itself to working really well with dark smoked ribs; the sweetness in the beer goes well with the sugar used in the sauce and provides a nice contrast to the smoky earthy flavors from the cooking. It can also provide a lot of contrasting flavors to cheese like gruyere, which tends to be both nutty and creamy."

[More on how to pair holiday cookies with beer]

Interested in taking your pairing journey even farther? You can find more recipes and pairing suggestions at

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.