Rewind to just a few years ago and we were too happy to chug a beer, any beer with our favourite Indian dishes. Back then, we didn’t know any better. Today, we’re spoilt for choice thanks to the spate of microbreweries that have come up all over India. From Delhi and Mumbai to Pune and Bangalore, craft beers have now become a cooler (and viable) option. Indian cuisine is complex and marked by sophisticated layers of taste. Curries are a treat for the nose as well as the tongue, with the wafting fragrance of cardamom, cumin, cloves, coriander, etc. making your mouth water even before you start eating. Knowing how to pair the right craft beer with the right Indian dish is de rigeur. Complementing an Indian dish with the right craft beer can create a sensory mélange that will tantalise and titillate, leaving you wanting for more. Thankfully, getting the beer-Indian food chemistry right is not a nightmare. All you need to do is keep these simple factors in mind as you experiment with your taste buds:
Step 1. Understand the intensity
There’s no dearth of craft beer options in the Indian market. Some of the local brews are quite outlandish (I would rather have coriander on my food and not in my beer, thank you, but maybe that’s just me)—from mango-infused brews to those spiked with orange peels. The trick really is to match your favourite dish with a craft beer of similar intensity. Look for a pairing that is not overpowering on either side. Wheat beers are light on the palate, and have very little bitterness, if any. German, American, and Belgian wheat beers are best paired with Indian dishes that aren’t too spicy. The South German Hefeweizen is an aromatic beer that boasts more than 50 per cent of wheat. The light and delicate flavour of the beer does not overpower the taste of the food. This makes it a great match for less spicy chicken gravies like bhuna chicken. Belgian Wit infused with orange peels and coriander actually works really well with lightly-spiced seafood dishes and shell fish—a great pairing option for the Goan favourite mussels in coconut sauce. This malta-orange spiced brew has a tangy taste and works well with milder dishes like Paneer Tikka Masala.
Step 2. Match the flavour profile
Darker-hued craft beers like the English brown ales or American amber ales have a heavy flavour profile owing to roasted and malted barley. The roasting creates a nutty caramel taste. Pair the these dark craft beers with Indian food dishes that are also caramelised on the outside. Tandoori chicken and American amber ale is a match made in heaven for this exact reason. Known for its spicy hop fragrance and a flavour profile that includes citrus, floral and herbal medleys, Indian pale ale or IPA is a power-packed brew. If you’re looking for a craft beer that sets off your favourite spicy Indian dishes, IPA is your new best friend. Pair a spicy vindaloo, chicken curry, gosht hara masala or even achari paneer with an IPA and feel the brew improve the piquancy of this beloved spicy dish. The bold spicy flavour profile of IPA makes it the perfect pick for most spicy Indian starters and main course dishes.
Though there are exceptions, wine and Indian food often don’t work well together. The spices decimate the tannins in the wine leading to a flavour overload that is not palatable. However, the carbonation in beer is the perfect palate cleanser for spicy dishes and those made in ghee. Pairing your favourite Indian dishes with craft beer is not difficult. And with so many craft breweries around, you will find plenty of options and combos. So go on, dare to pair. Cheers!