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Pairing Winter Beers and Comfort Food

A quick rundown on matching the perfect brews with hearty meals this winter season.

by Lauren Jerome


Photo by Lauren Jerome, Toronto, 2012

Despite this winter’s rollercoaster temperatures — springtime one day, deep-freeze the next — there is one thing that you can always depend on: beer. Winter calls for pumped up malts and skyrocketed alcohol levels, just the prescription for smooth sailing hibernation. Think porters, think stouts, think brown ales. Also, highly hopped beers with cutting edge bitterness are all the rage now and a sure-fire way to warm up from the inside.

Just as dependable and necessary for a cozy winter is food. For the Canadian long haul, you’re going to need some comfort food; the season’s all about hearty stews, gamey meats, and savoury sauces. Matching up beer and food properly can be more satisfyingly toasty than a Snuggie. Pairing is all about complementing or contrasting flavours. You can match smoky or hearty meals with a beer that demonstrates similar traits.

Photo by Lauren Jerome, Toronto, 2012

A great porter, like Black Creek Porter, with your beef stew, a brown ale, such as Neudstadt Springs 10W30, with your creamy mushroom sauce or an abbey style similar to Leffe Brune with your succulent roast, all make for a pretty great night. You can also contrast with opposites. So, if hops are more your thing — a full bodied IPA; Rogue Brutal IPA or Tee Brewing’s Hop Head Indian Pale Ale for example — then do what we all want to do when it’s cold and order the fattiest thing on the menu; the bitterness will cut through that richness like a delicious knife and you’ll be glad you did. Keep these guidelines in mind and experiment with different pairings to find out what your favourites are.

Photo by Lauren Jerome, Toronto, 2012

Oh, and don’t forget about dessert. Complement a chocolate cake with a chocolate stout like Young’s Double Chocolate Stout or contrast a sweet cheesecake with a bitter coffee stout like Dieu du Ciel’s Peche Mortel and you’ll happily forget about bikini season.

For those glorious winter days when it feels like beach weather is just around the corner, grab yourself a great wheat beat, order something with goat cheese or smoked salmon, and bask in the glory that is faux-spring.

Photo by Lauren Jerome, Toronto, 2012

One thing that’s important to remember is that the colour of the beer doesn’t necessarily predict how it’s going to taste. That deep brown ale may actually be mellower than the amber IPA you’re eyeing. If you don’t think you like “dark” beers, don’t speak too soon because you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. If you’re still not sold, try a dark wheat beer with high alcohol, a full mouth feel and some spice, like Unibroue’s Maudite or even Erdinger Weissbier Dunkel for a lower alcohol option.

Photo by Lauren Jerome, Toronto, 2012

The LCBO has a variety of options: anything smoked or aged in whisky barrels is a pretty sure bet. Stouts are your friends this winter and coffee, oatmeal, chocolate, or fruits are all good additions when done right. There’s also a whirlwind of IPAs hitting the scene with the hops and alcohol levels really kicked up a notch. Buy individual bottles and feel out what suits you.

If you feel like heading out, try to go somewhere with a decent beer list, hopefully a place that changes their styles with the seasons (any self respecting bar will carry these winter appropriate beauties). The Only Café on the Danforth is excellent great local place to start with an excellent beer selection.

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