It’s the beginning of a new year, the gyms are full, the step counters are active and everyone you know is on some sort of diet that might even include abstaining from alcohol. However, before you give up craft beer consider that it can still be a part of a healthy diet if you monitor your consumption and pay attention to what you are eating with your beverages. This article is meant to open your mind to the possibilities of pairing craft beer with food without increasing those pesky numbers on the scale. In fact, you may even add some more nutrients and vitamins to your diet if it’s done right. In each of these pairings, the beer accounts for half or more of the calories in the meal depending on the alcohol by volume (abv) percentage so you really have to watch your portion sizes closely and read the food labels to make these work to your advantage.
First Pairing Idea – When You Are Craving Spicy Greasy Food and an IPA, Try Something New
IPA’s and spicy food go together so well that this craving is hard not to give into time to time. The bitter juicy hops intensify the spicy foods at first, enhance the saltiness and then douse the flames at the last second in order to cleanse your palate for more greasy hot goodness. However, most of these foods found in pubs are very high in calories, salt and fat so they are likely to hinder any weight management goals for this year. If you are craving something like this I suggest a Session IPA (or ISA) which cuts your calories almost in half compared to a craft IPA due to lower alcohol content, while still providing a lot of hop flavours and bitterness. Once you’ve found the right beer, try pairing it with a nutrient rich spicy kale chip from the healthy snack aisle in your local grocery store. I chose a 4.5% abv ISA called Hop Therapy by Russell Brewing for this pairing and a crunchy, spicy kale chip.
Nutritional Info – Chipotle Kale Chips & Russell Brewing ISA:
Calories – 265 Fat – 9g Carbs – 23g Protein – 6.5g Fiber 3g
The kale chips had chia seeds, cashews and sesame seeds in them to give a crunchy texture with a nutty flavour that heated up once you tasted the chipotle spices and finished with a vegetative green bitterness typical of kale. The beer had some light biscuit malts with a dry grapefruit and lemon grass finish and refreshing mouth feel. When these two are paired together the spice of the kale chip intensified, the malts in the beer shined and interestingly enough the bitterness was pleasantly accentuated in both the kale and the beer. Yes, as weird as it sounds, bitter spicy kale chips and beer actually work as a pairing. As an alternate, a session craft Lager or session craft Ale would work here too and the healthy snack aisle has all kinds of vegetable chips in it to experiment with.
Second Pairing Idea – When You Are Craving Beer and Beer Nuts, Try This Pairing Instead
There are lots of nut mixes out there and many of them are blanched, roasted, salted, spiced, oiled, sugared and coated with corn syrup to make them taste better because, well at least in my opinion, the raw healthiest versions are kind of bland and boring. The problem with many of these mixes is that they often contain added calories, added sodium, the occasional preservative and other things that you may not want more of in your diet or simply a bunch of nuts you simple don’t like. Another way you can try to “flavour” them up though is by pairing them with a Nut Brown style ale and recreate that game day beer and nuts combo that we all love. I figured for this pairing, a Chestnut Brown Ale and 25 grams of raw almonds would pair quite nicely together and I was right.
Nutritional Info – Raw Almonds & Whistler Brewing Chestnut Ale:
Calories – 285 Fat – 12g Carbs – 18g Protein – 6g Fiber 3g
The raw almonds were fairly bland with tiny hints of natural sweetness from the nut and dry earthy flavours as they went down. This beer has a sweet nutty flavour up front, with an earthy middle and heavy chestnut finish which is quite unique. Combined, the natural sweetness of the almonds is enhanced and like a bag of mixed nuts, the chestnut and almond flavours play off of each other by blending their unique earthy properties into some new flavours that make the raw almonds significantly more edible. This works pretty well, I would recommend this as a perfect post workout recovery snack. Alternatively, you could go with any Brown Ale here or try a spicy Saison to mix it up and basically any raw nut unprocessed nut that you like will do.
Third Pairing – Cheese and Beer Make The Perfect Pairing
Beer and cheese go together very well, better than wine and cheese in my opinion, simply due to the various flavour profiles of the many styles of beer out there and a huge variety of cheeses to choose from. The trick to pairing these two together is to pay attention to the age of the cheese, the texture, the moisture content and to pick a style that is best suited to pair with the beer and not be over powered by it. Now, it is important to note that cheese is a fairly calorie dense food so you have to watch your portions carefully otherwise it is easy to overdo it. For this pairing I went with a basic 5% abv Pale Ale and a small 30 gram portion of a delightful 6 year aged sharp cheddar.
Nutritional Info – 6 Year Aged Sharp Cheddar & Longwood Extra Ale:
Calories – 270 Fat – 9g Carbs – 14g Protein – 9g Fiber 0g
The beer featured some caramel malts, floral and grassy hop notes and a mild bitter finish with a medium body while the cheese was an intensely sharp cheddar featuring a bit of a nutty caramel characteristic and a lingering aftertaste with a slightly creamy body. When paired together, the already excellent cheese went into the delicacy level of savory flavours. The caramels in the beer and cheese shine while the nutty sharp cheddar blends into the astoundingly creamier body of the cheese subduing any hop bitterness and replacing it with rich cheddar earthy delight. I paused every time I took a bite of cheese after having a sip of beer, this was incredible and the small amount of cheese was just right. This is perfect for when you are craving rich and intensely flavoured foods like penne alfredo. A good alternate pairing would be Brie cheese and a Belgian Blonde beer or German Style Hefeweizen or an Amber Ale with the same cheese.
Fourth Pairing – Recreate Oktoberfest At Home With Fewer Calories
A typical bratwurst sausage has just under 300 calories on its own, but once you add a pretzel bun, condiments and pint of beer you can easily be pushing close to 1000 calories just in one serving. What might be ok once or twice a year can be pretty damaging if it becomes a habit. Yet again, with a little creativity and shopping around you can recreate all of the excellent flavours of a beer and sausage pairing in a way that can be enjoyed any day of the week. I decided to pair a freshly made, nitrate free herbed turkey sausage with sauerkraut and a 6.2% abv Oktoberfest Lager from Winnipeg, BC.
Nutritional Info – Turkey Sausage, Sauerkraut & Oktoberfest Lager:
Calories – 290 Fat – 4g Carbs – 14g Protein – 16g Fiber 0g
The turkey sausage was slightly salty and herbed with a meaty umami flavour that already goes pretty well with the slightly sweet and fairly sour flavours in the sauerkraut. For an Oktoberfest lager, this particular beer was slightly darker and had some nice cereal grains and toffee malts upfront with some noble floral spicy bitter hop notes on the finish. Combined, the umami increased, while the caramelized outside of the sausage complemented the sweet toffee in the beer. The herbs and the floral hops worked together well and interestingly enough a hidden molasses flavour appeared in the beer. This could be a meal on its own to be honest, quite filling and the cabbage sauerkraut makes a good side dish without adding a lot of calories. Feel free to experiment with other leaner sausages and Lager style beer pairings or even try a Lambic style beer for an adventure.
Fifth Pairing – When You Deserve a Treat, Beer and Ice Cream Floats Can’t Be Beat
Odds are you’ve had a root beer or cola float at some point in your life, especially as a kid or on your last visit to a sunny vacation spot. Floats are awesome treats, but they can also be super sweet and loaded with all kinds of chemicals found in modern day sodas. If by chance you are craving a root beer float, I strongly suggest having an adults only craft beer float instead. You do have to watch the portions really closely as it’s easy to go overboard on the ice cream, so be sure to measure the portions before adding it to the beer. I decided to go with a ½ cup of natural vanilla bean ice cream and a 5.5% abv Coffee Porter from Ontario in an attempt to create a mocha ice cream float.
Nutritional Info – Vanilla Bean Ice Cream & Coffee Porter:
Calories – 295 Fat – 7g Carbs – 27g Protein – 4.5g Fiber 0g
The ice cream was pretty straight forward vanilla bean, with a sweet cream texture and taste while the beer had notes of chocolate, dark roast coffee, brown sugar and cocoa. Once I put the ice cream in the beer, it foamed up significantly and spilled out the glass just a little so be careful not to overfill your glassware. The ice cream and the beer blended together into iced mocha cappuccino flavour, much like a milk stout, but with a marvelous creamy texture. This was so good, an adult ice cream float that was rich, creamy and not overly sweet like a typical cola or root beer float.
Bonus – Sometimes The ABV Is So High, You Just Have To Enjoy The Beer On Its Own
This Maple Scotch Ale from Quebec brewer Dieu Du Ciel is 9.5% abv in strength which brings the estimated calories in just this small bottle of beer to 285 calories. It was aged in Bourbon Barrels for 12 months so it has an intense malty sweet, oak and bourbon vanilla flavour that is almost over powering. When you pick up a beer like this, I suggest you simply sit back and sip it on its own without a food pairing to keep your calories in check, the scale will thank you later!
It’s good to really think about alcohol volume and portion size when it comes to craft beer if you want to avoid weight gain. Many places serve true pints of7% abv IPA’s and it’s pretty easy to have 2 or 3 in a single sitting bringing your beer consumption to a massive 1200 or more liquid calories. Once you add in some pub food or snacks you’re probably already at your entire day’s worth of energy intake in a single meal. But, if you are smart about it and know your numbers, you can beat the system without sacrificing flavour and quality – in fact you can increase both if you do it right!