The best part about pairing beer with food is that you can come at it from all sorts of angles. Pizza is no different. You can get a beer that’s bitter or highly carbonated to help cut the fat from the meat, cheese and heaviness from the dough, or you can grab something malty/sweet and maybe play off the tomato sauce and enhance my favorite flavor combo: sweet and salty.
I grabbed a pie the other night and wasn’t sure right off the bat what I wanted, so I figured “let’s get something sharp, heavily carbonated, and a hair bitter to keep my palate clean.” Naturally I reached for one of the all-time classics: Duvel in a bottle. The beer is very highly carbonated, sharp, dry and has just a touch of bitterness and pepper in the finish that does a great job of keeping your palate clean as you go from slice to slice.
Just a heads up, Duvel is by no means a “light” beer regardless of the color or its flavor profile. At 8.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), you may want to pay attention to how quickly you are downing it. If you don’t want to get into something so high in alcohol, you can always grab a great lager like Bobber Lager from Logboat Brewing, or even something like a Pilsner Urquell. Both beers are heavier lagers/pilsners that will hold up to your pizza, but will still finish dry with a touch of bitterness.
Now, normally when I grab a beer for my pizza, I love something that enhances the sweetness of the tomatoes in the sauce (we’re talking traditional sauce here) and goes with the saltiness of standard toppings like Italian sausage or pepperoni. Years ago, I lucked into this combo when I got a glass of St. Bernardus Prior 8 with a meat lovers pizza and couldn’t believe how well the combo worked.
Prior 8 is a full-bodied Belgian Dubbel that’s malty-sweet and has great notes of dark fruit, brown sugar and a noticeable alcohol-sweetness as well. It held up to a heavy pizza, helped ramp up the sweetness of the sauce and really made the sausage and pepperoni shine. Think of this beer for pizza (or any food, for that matter) as something you can use in place of a sweeter red wine.
Once again, if you don’t want something around 8% ABV (which is where the Prior 8 clocks in), look for a good, malty brown ale. Beers like Bur Oak’s Boone Country Brown or Logboat’s Mamoot will offer you some of the similar sweet notes, but will take the alcohol down considerably.
These are a few basic ways to attack a solid beer pairing with a great pizza. Just like beer, pizza can come at you with any and all flavors, and you can follow some basic rules depending on what you want to enhance or contrast. Bitterness (hops) and carbonation will help you keep the meal from becoming too heavy. A good, hoppy IPA, pale ale or pilsner (if you want to get lighter) will take care of that, cutting through that weight.
But how can you approach the situation if you want to ramp up the sweetness of the sauce and play off traditional, salty ingredients? If a friend loves a bit of spicy toppings on their pizza, you can always grab an IPA to help ramp up that spiciness, or grab a maltier beer (brown ale, porter, stout) if you want to help tone that spice down a hair.
Or, if you don’t want to worry about all of this, just grab the slice that makes you happy and grab the beer that makes you happy. It’s just pizza and beer, not rocket science.