Beer and fish go together like, well, fish and chips. After all, that classic dish uses a beer batter and, traditionally, a malt (read: beer-based) vinegar. But mixing beer and fish goes well beyond that.
Before we even begin, know that whatever beer you like goes with whatever fish you like. No one will come to your door to beat you up if you pair, say, a Belgian tripel with a Caribbean fish stew… even if that is a little weird.
Second thing you want to know is that the species of fish matters less than how you cook it. For example, with beer battered fish and chips, you’ll pretty much always be using some sort of firm, white fish. Anything such as halibut, bass, cod, or walleye all will end up more or less the same on the plate.
It’s the beer batter that makes the dish.
More or less anything goes with a beer batter, although pretty much everyone agrees that a simple malty lager – think Miller High Life, Grain Belt, or Rainier – works the best. Malty English ales, like an English mild or an amber, also work very well. As do all kinds of Mexican lagers, even the dark ones.
Hoppy is your enemy in beer batter because it will make things oddly bitter. A nice West Coast IPA is great to drink with your fish and chips, however. So is its milder cousin the pale ale.
Rather than get overly specific, here are some good general rules when pairing fish and seafood with beer.
The 10 Best Rules for Pairing Beer and Fish
1. Fried food loves bubbles, so highly carbonated beers like a pilsner, lager, kölsch or hefeweizen are always a good call.
2. Hoppy likes spicy. Picante fish tacos, ceviche, hot fish or shrimp curries all do well with IPAs, although unless you are a serious hop head, single IPAs are the way to go. Doubles tend not to go well with food in general. Too sticky.
3. When in doubt, go alt. Altbiers like Alaskan Amber are Swiss Army knives when it comes to fish and seafood. They are generally good with anything.
4. Fish tacos require Mexican light lagers, pretty much by law. My favorites would be Carta Blanca, Tecate, and Victoria in that order, with Pacifico following up. Honorable mention to Modelo Especial. Friends don’t let friends drink Sol.
5. With smoked fish, it matters whether it’s hot or cold smoked. Hot smoked salmon, for example, pairs well with heavier malty beers like a Scotch ale or Bock, while cold smoked fish does better with something zippy. My favorite is a Belgian saison, or a hefeweizen.
6. Really dark beers like stouts and porters pair well with dairy-based chowders… if you’re eating them in cool weather. A stout with an oyster chowder is really quite good. That said, I’ve never quite understood the practice of eating a thick white chowder in the summer heat, but if I did, I’d choose an amber or altbier.
7. Grilled fish and seafood pair well with mildly hoppy beers like a pale ale or a session IPA. But again, that altbier does really well here, too. As does an Irish red.
8. Huge fan of Belgian witbiers like Allagash White? Go Belgian and steam some mussels in them. Steamed seafood of any sort makes a happy marriage with this style of beer.
9. Got a hankering for raw oysters or clams? This is your chance to order the slightly sour beers, like a gose or a Berliner Weisse. Avoid the massive sours, as they don’t pair well with food. Think light and tart.
10. Finally, blackened fish LOVES black lagers. It’s an unusual combination, but it’s a winner. Try to find a German one and you’ll thank me later.
Hank Shaw is the James Beard Award-winning author of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (huntgathercook.com) His latest cookbook is Hook, Line, and Supper. He lives (and drinks beer) in Sacramento, CA. You can follow him on his Website and find his newest book Hook, Line, and Supper on Amazon.