A mostly American and French style. The Amber Ale (also called Amber or Red Ale) is based on a Pale Ale but with some more high-roasted malts. Amber Ales are sweeter than Pilsners or Pale Ales, and would pair well with seafood. Lake all Ales, this style is brewed with top-fermenting ale yeast which allows a good amount of residual complex sugars to sweeten the taste.
Belgian Pale Ale
These feature delicate flavors and a golden yellow color similar to Pilsners and are only gently hopped.
Trappist style beers. They get their name from using triple the malt of a “Simple” Abbey Ale. Slightly darker than a Pilsner but still golden yellow in color, they have a huge fluffy head. Taste is complex, with spicy and sweet following into the aroma. They use candy sugar for light body
Made with a dark roast of malt. Some of the sugars in the malt caramelize and give a lingering sweetness and caramel taste to most brown ales. Easy to drink and full-flavored, these beers pair very well with beef and other red meats. You can also try it as an accompaniment to pulled pork BBQ.
The India Pale Ale (IPA) originated from the time of the Raj when breweries in England sent their Pale Ales to India by sea. By the time they arrived, the beer was undrinkable – it had soured on the long journey. The breweries increased the amount of hopes in the Pale Ale, as hops act as a natural preservative. To counteract the hop bitterness, they added more pale malt as well. The end result is an intensely hoppy, bitter beer with a strong malt backbone and a higher alcohol content that a typical Pale Ale. IPAs pair nicely with spicy food.
Produced with a unique style of fermentation, proper Lambic beers are only brewed in a small area in Belgium. Unlike regular beers, which are brewed with carefully selected yeasts, the Lambic style uses wild yeast for natural spontaneous fermentation. Cherries and other fruits are often added to Lambics producing variations on the style. Pair a sour Lambic with an assertive cheese.
Most countries with a brewing tradition have Pale Ales. They are brewed with ale yeast and lightly-roasted malts. They are generally more lightly hopped than other beer styles. They will normally be a light golden in color; darker than lagers, but paler than Brown Ale. These beers will pair happily with any food that is not intensely flavored or spicy.
Pilsner (or Lager)
The words Pilsner and Lager are interchangeable. All Pilsners are derived in style from Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic. The town there Pilsner Urquell is brewed is Plzen. Pilsen-er means “in the style of the town of Pilsen”, leading to the name for this style of beer. Pilsners are brewed in cool temperatures (50-55F) with lager yeast, which is a bottom-fermenting yeast. This means the yeast can eat more of the sugars to turn them into alcohol. The flavor profile is very crisp and clean with a hoppy bitterness and very little residual malt sweetness. This style is a good all-arounder.
Porter or Stout
Porter and Stout are often confusing as they are both dark in color and may share similarities in taste as well. These beers are dark, usually dark brown to black. They are made from darker malts which impart a dense taste usually compared to dark chocolate or coffee. “Stout” in reference to beer is used in the archaic meaning of “strong of full-bodied.” These dark, dramatic beers are good companions to desserts.
Wheat beers (also called Wit, Witbier, Witte, or Hefeweizen, depending on country of origin) are made with a high proportion of wheat. Brewed with a top-fermenting ale yeast, there tends to be a lot of residual sugar providing a delicate sweetness. Many breweries add orange peel or spices to the wittes lending another component to the flavor. The delicate flavor of these beers make them great to sip on a hot summer day.
Chardonnay is a very versatile wine grape: its flavor and aromas are easily influenced by where it’s grown and it’s made. Fruit flavors range from apple and lime in cooler climates to tropical fruits in warmer places. When barreled in oak, it takes on a richness characterized by honey and butter flavors. When barreled in stainless steel, it often retains more mineral flavors and comes across as fresher on the palate. Chardonnay excels in Burgundy, France. Cool coastal areas of California also produce excellent Chardonnay.
Chardonnay is a favorite with seafood. Mineral versions, like those from Chablis, France, pair particularly well with oysters.
Riesling is a crisp, clean wine with green apple, pear and lime flavors. The best offer pleasing mineral qualities as well. With age, Riesling takes on honey flavors and attractive oily aromas. Riesling grows well in Germany, the Alsace region of France, the Finger Lakes region of New York, and parts of Australia and Washington State.
Riesling pars nicely with spicy foods, poultry and pork. Try it with Thai food.
Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio is made from grapes that generally produce different styles of wine depending on where the grapes are grown and how they’re handled in the cellar. In the Alsace region of France, and in places like Oregon and New Zealand, Pinot Gris typically makes rich wines marked by a bit of spic. The Italian style (Pinot Grigio) tends to be fresh, crisp and refreshing.
Sample either with seafood and pasta dishes, vegetarian food and poultry.
Sauvignon Blanc is a fresh, crisp, aromatic wine with grapefruit and grassy flavors. This wine is the star of the Loire region of France. It also shines in the Bordeaux region, where it is often blended with Semillon. In the New World, New Zealand has emerged as a prime sport for Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc is a food-friendly wine that goes well with many seafood, poultry and vegetable dishes.
Merlot is a soft, supple wine with nice fruit flavors of plums and blackberries and occasionally mint, chocolate and eucalyptus flavors and aromas. Typically it is ready to drink earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, which sometimes needs a few years for its astringent tannins to mellow. Outside of Europe, New World Merlot shines in places like California, Chile and Washington State.
Cabernet Sauvignon is more assertive than Merlot, with more tannin and greater aging potential. It can have flavors of blackberries, plums, black currants, and cassis. Aged in oak, Cabernet Sauvignon can take on flavors of vanilla, cedar, chocolate and coffee. Beyond Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon does well in Napa, California, where it produces smooth, ripe wines. Washington State, Chile and Australia are also making excellent Cabernet.
Merlot and Cabernet are very nice with meat dishes like beef and lamb.
Pinot Noir, a notoriously difficult grape to grow, made its mark initially in Burgundy, France. The grape continues to deliver single-varietal wines that are among the best in the world. Pinot Noirs are delicate wines that taste of red fruits like cherries, raspberries and strawberries. With age, flavors and aromas become more complex, developing earthy notes like mushrooms and decaying leaves. Burgundy, in particular, is noted for developing these earthy flavors. In the New World, tasty Pinot Noir is being made in Oregon, New Zealand, and some of the cooler appellations of California.
Pinot Noir is a versatile food wine, great with poultry, salmon, meat and vegetable dishes.
Shiraz/Syrah versions are typically big, bold and spicy with jammy fruit and aromas of leather and black fruit. Syrah is at home in the Rhone region of France, where the grape makes spicy, rich, darkly delicious wines that increase in complexity as they age. Syrah also makes delicious wines in Australia, where it is marketed as Shiraz. Syrah also excels in Washington State, where it often displays an attractive acid balance, and in California, where the styles vary significantly.
Syrah is a very versatile wine that pairs well with a wide variety of foods. It’s terrific with grilled meats.
Other Reds to Consider
Sangiovese is the wine grape that makes Chianti, a tremendous food wine with flavors and aromas of cherries and rose petals.
Nebbiolo is the grape variety that makes Barolo and Barbaresco, the noble (and pricey) red wines of the Piedmont region of Italy. With age, flavor notes of plus and cherries are enhanced by flavors of smoke, tar and roses.
Malbec is a star in Argentina, where it produces inky wines with an attractive smoke and leather quality. It also stands out in Cahors in Southern France.
Tempranillo is the famous grape on Spain, where it is used in wines of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions.
Gamay makes the fresh and fruity, raspberry-flavored wines of the Beaujolais region of Burgundy.
Zinfandel had found its home in California, where it produces big, fruit, often spicy red wines.