You might be surprised, but non-alcoholic beer is a relatively new invention in the last 50 years or so. It provides a similar taste to a regular brew without the inebriating side effects, making it popular among those who drink more for the flavor and social aspect than anything else. Upon its introductive years, non-alcoholic beers did not have the best flavor or the most ideal production methods. Now with many more brands and production qualities (dealcoholized), non-alcoholic beer can possess a similar taste to one of your favorite brews.
You can enjoy non-alcoholic beer and food pairings the same way you can with regular beer. The taste depends on some factors: the beer brand, quality, and flavor style. Not sure where to start? This guide will explain the basic flavor styles and food pairings with your favorite non-alcoholic beers!
The Right Note
Beer flavor profiles can be separated into seven major distinctions with minor undertone differences. When paired with the right food, these components will be perfectly balanced, creating a blend of flavors.
According to the FDA, the term “dealcoholized” and “alcohol-removed” beverages must not exceed a 0.5% volume of alcohol. The FDA also “does not consider the terms “non-alcoholic” and “alcohol-free” to be synonymous. Although a non-alcoholic beverage is labeled as much, it “can contain small traces of alcohol, but there may be less than 0.5% of alcohol.” Keep this in mind when selecting your items, as you do not want to mistakenly buy non-alcoholic beer if alcohol-free beverages are what you’re interested in.
New technology and innovation in the food and beverage industry have allowed non-alcoholic beverages to be brewed in a way similar to standard beer, but in a way that removes the alcohol. If you’re interested in enjoying non-alcoholic beers and food pairings, you must first understand beer’s complex flavor profiles.
Beer Flavors Profiles & Styles
You may notice that a brew’s small physical details can significantly affect its taste. Depending on the variety of colors, beer will differ in flavor during the brewing process. The primary categories of these flavors can be broken down into seven major categories. The minor undertones and categories help create unique ingredients and food pairs.
- Hops – Notable for being well-paired with flavorful components. Hops have a bitterness to balance out sweet hints. They come from the Humulus lupulus plant and can range in other flavors than the bitterness it’s best known for. Hops flavor provides a natural aroma that can be described as earthy, woodsy, and citrus notes.
- Malt – Derived from grain, malt offers a roasted, naturally sweet flavor that can be similar to raisin or toasted caramel when flavored throughout the brewing process.
- Crisp – Lighter in color and offering dry flavor, light beers are acidic without overly sweet. Crisp beers include amber-colored ales as well.
- Smoke – Smoky beers will incorporate wood-burned, aged flavor profiles due to their soaked malts. Smoky brews will be darker in color.
- Fruit & Spice – Will have sweet and dry profiles, much like a warm-spiced raisin that ranges in color. It can be golden to dark brown.
- Sour or Funky – Funky and sour notes can be a great taste, but often an acquired one. It is slightly acidic, can be light in color to dark brown, and these beers are often aged.
- Roast – Dark roast-malt beers pair well with more robust flavors and can balance the sweetness from natural fruit flavors and dark chocolate. Think dark roasted coffee.
Food Combinations and Contrasts
To better understand the pairing of non-alcoholic drinks with delicious food, it’s important to consider balance. Like most well-balanced dishes, a play on texture, taste, and mouthfeel is the key to creating a one-of-a-kind bite. Beer and food pairings are relatively the same–specific flavors can help to draw out artful undertones and add excitement to your meal.
The bitter flavor of hops can stand on its own against a variety of more intense flavors. Aged cheeses are one of the most common foods due to their high-fat content. Bitter beer can pair well with creamy additions to fried foods. Other foods include:
- Club sandwiches
- Creamy sauces that include butter, mushroom, or parmesan cheese
Hops make for the best bar-crawl-type foods and would be a good choice for pre-games and tailgates.
Malty flavors take well to hearty foods. The distinctly sweet taste of a roasted malt can cut through saltier and filling meals. Foods include:
- Pizza (toppings included!)
- Grilled or roasted meats
Sweet, malty beers pair well with salty and savory flavors. If your usual food choice is a slice of smoked meat with a side of earthy veggies, this is the best choice for you.
Crisp non-alcoholic beers provide refreshing qualities due to their smooth texture. The non-alcohol and food pairings for a crisp beer rely on refreshing the palate. They may not offer an abrasive flavor like other ales, but the nice texture provides a cooling property for spicy or sweet plates.
- Spicy noodles
- Fruit forward desserts
Light lagers and drinks work best with everyday foods for a refreshing pairing.
Darker beers and stout lagers have a strong taste that can overpower most foods–drinks such as imperial stouts or brown ale compliment foods as hearty and rich as they are.
- Blackened fish and chicken
- Grilled foods and game meats
- Dark truffle chocolate
- Raw shellfish
When you think about non-alcoholic beer and food pairings, this is one of the only types that use deep, rich flavors to compliment dark flavors.
This deep amber ale is best complemented with woodsy and smoky flavors. Bar apps go perfect with this variety of foods, such as salted nuts and smoked sliders.
- Grilled, smoky, and roasted meats
- Toasted foods such as nuts
- Fish and sushi
Smoky hints are also a good match for light summery dishes often served on the grill.
Fruit and Spice
These deep brown to dark beers can enhance a variety of already sweet flavors. The fruit notes can include apple and pear, and the color of these lagers is a beautiful golden to darker brown.
- Seafood dishes
- Strawberry shortcake
- Sweep fruit crepes
For anyone with a sweet tooth, fruity beers can be the perfect summer trend, whereas the spiced lagers mingle well with acidic profiles.
Sour and Funky
Between all the flavors, these beers present a robust, acidic taste that may be off putting for first-time drinkers. Sour flavors can stand up to refreshing, funky flavors that can cancel each other out. Some sour beers utilize tart fruit flavors such as lime and cherry.
- Raw seafood with citrus (ceviche)
- Strong, aged cheeses
- Roasted sausage
You may feel that only the most dynamic tasting lagers can stand up to intense flavors. If you’re interested in experimenting with your palette, these flavors can be a great option to try!
From bitter beer to dark beer to light beer, there are so many interesting non-alcoholic beers that you should consider trying. As non-alcoholic beers and food pairings evolve, we expect to see a rise in new combinations. Modern brewing processes have made it so easy to bring the luscious flavors of beer into a non-intoxicating beverage.
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