Food and beer matching: IPA

  • By
    Natalie Hardwick - Writer - bbcgoodfood.com

The second installment of our series looks at the India pale ale - a hazy, hoppy brew that can handle a menu that's heavy on the flavour.

Pint of IPA

Craft brewers love India pale ale - it's an opportunity to throw lots of punchy hops into a really strong beer. This traditional approach makes for a ramped-up pale ale with a flavour bouquet as complex as wine - so matching it to food opens up plenty of potential.

The rules

As expressed in our introductory lager matching blog, this is a subjective game so go with your gut instinct and personal impressions. Richard Burhouse's Huddersfield brewery, Magic Rock specialise in pale ales. Their 7.4% IPA Cannonball is often described as a 'hop bomb'. According to Richard, the key is to harmonise flavours, but this can be achieved by both contrasting or, alternatively, finding like-for-like matches. He also reminds us that the lighter the beer, the lighter the dish.

Bottle of beer with hopsLet's talk IPA

When the British shipped ale over to India in the 19th century, it took months to arrive. To get around the mould-factor, brewers would throw in loads more hops to preserve the brew. It's usually around 4.5-6% and quite hazy but the longer it's left to brew, the more beastly the result. A lot of IPAs are bottle conditioned leaving a thick sediment at the bottom. It's customary to drink this sediment in some quarters, but expect a wave of pure yeastiness.

Keynotes

Heavy hopping gives the beer its core flavour profile and depending on the IPA you can pick up anything from citrus, elderflower and herbs to tropical fruits and pine needles. It has a bitter finish and a thick feel in the mouth. Expect the colour to range from golden lemon to burnt orange.

Let's match IPA with...

Ingredients for Thai curry pasteThai food

The aromatics of Thai food match those of an IPA. The key is not to overpower the beer, so don't make your dishes too spicy. Something like a green curry is ideal - the lemongrass and coriander will merge well with the citrus and herbal hops.


Burgers

Something salty and oily works well with an IPA as the drink's resinous consistency completely cleans the palate after every swig. Make sure you serve it really cold so it quenches the thirst even more. Burgers are a great match, but make sure your toppings aren't too aggressive - avoid a blue cheese attack!


Fish

Oily fish works well with a strong thick beer like IPA, so try something like salmon or mackerel. Serving it with traditional lemon is a perfect match for the drink, but try a mango salsa or salsa verde to bring out more subtle nuances.

Goan prawn and coconut curry with cumin rice
Goan curry

A light touch is required when it comes to fish and seafood, so Goan curries are often less dense and hot than those from other regions of India. Try lightening them further with a little coconut milk. Go easy on the chilli, but be more generous with aromatic curry leaves and earthy cumin.


Mexican food

A lot of 'new world' hops from America or New Zealand are really herbaceous. One keynote is coriander, abundant in the colourful cuisine of Mexico. Fajitas have the right level of spice to harmonise well with IPAs, or try salmon tacos and crab tostada.


Mango

Many IPAs have tropical notes so accentuate them with juicy mango. It works well with a simple dessert like a syllabub, or try combining it with salty flavours like ham in a salad, or with lightly curried Coronation chicken.

hot and sour fish soup
Vietnamese food

Beer picks up on the base Vietnamese flavours of lime, galangal and tamarind, plus it's a good contrast to creamy coconut and tangy fish sauce. Try an aromatic pho soup with light rice noodles, or a fresh, crunchy salad with ribbons of carrot and cucumber.


Citrus desserts

A bit of a no-brainer, but a great way to finish off a meal is to serve your final IPA with a lemon tart or orange cake. Key lime is good too, but make sure it isn't too sour.

Got a favourite pairing? Give us your suggestions below:

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