Pairing beer with shrimp and seafood can seem a little daunting. First, there are no rules. You should have fun in the kitchen and that includes cooking and pairing with beer. So let’s dive into using beer with shrimp and fish.
This post was initiated because of a conversation we’ve been having about what beers to use in our coconut fried shrimp recipe. First, everything in this post is strictly my own opinion.
If you ask 100 beer snobs what beer they’d choose to pair with a meal, you’re going to probably get 100 different answers. So, when deliberately trying to use beer in your recipes or with a pairing, there are a few questions you should ask yourself.
What do you want to accomplish with the beer?
Do you want to compliment flavors?
Do you want to contrast flavors?
Are you trying to cut through the fat? Or are you just trying to add another layer of flavor?
Do you really want beer to be the star of the show or just be a supporting actor?
General Rules for Beer Pairing
Here are some general rules I recommend for pairing beer with seafood:
- First rule of beer pairing beer with fried fish and shrimp: have fun with it.
- Second rule of beer pairing: stick with good quality beer. And some people are going to jump on me, but I’d consider some of the large macro brews in this category too. Looking at you Yuengling… Avoid beer that has a known reputation for just not being good (Colt 45 for example… unless you like that kind of thing).
- Third rule: try the beer before you cook with it. It would really suck to use a new beer you have never tried to find out you don’t like it.
- Fourth rule: I would avoid any super high-shelf craft beers. The type costing $15 or more per bottle. I would personally hold off on using any of your double barrel-aged Russian imperial sour ales (I’m being hyperbolic). I think these really expensive, high quality, special beers should be left to stand on their own. But if you’re rolling in the dough, have a large quantity at your disposal, or if you just want something more special, go ahead and use them.
Choosing a Beer for Fried Seafood
At this point, you’re probably on thinking “get on with your choices!” So here goes. Just remember, I’m just 1 of the 100 beer snobs you could ask, so these are just my opinions.
I’m going to focus on the BJCP style guidelines and classic commercial examples since those are what I’m most familiar with. These should match up with a lot of the commercially available beer styles.
Personally, I’d recommend a beer that complements the seafood flavor or something that helps cut through the fattiness of fried food. The following style recommendations are for both cooking and serving.
- Light and crisp. These will cut through the fat and will let the seafood come through while giving a low malt quality
- American light lager – Bud Light/Budweiser
- Pilsners – Paulaner Premium Pils
- Munich Helles – Weihenstephaner Original
- Cream Ale – Genesis Cream Ale/Spotted Cow
- Wheat Ales – Bell’s Oberon
- Blond Ale – Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale
- American Pale Ale – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
- Still on the lighter crispy side. Will add a sweet toastiness to the batter.
- Vienna Lager – Samuel Adam’s Boston Lager
- Oktoberfest – Paulaner Oktoberfest
- Amber Lagers – Yuengling
- Provide a more full malty sweetness with a good bit of toastiness.
- American Brown Ale – Big Sky Moose Drool
- British Brown Ale – Newcastle Brown/Samuel Smith Nutbrown Ale
- Mild – Samuel Adams Ruby Mild
- Adds a deep full malt sweetness and will provide deeper roast and chocolate-like notes when used in a dish.
- American Porter – Anchor Porter
- English Porter – Taddy Porter
- Oatmeal Stout – Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
- Scottish Ale – Belhaven Scottish
- Schwartzbier – Samuel Adams Black Lager
- The unique Belgian yeast character will add a bright fruity flavor to the dish. Usually, high carbonation will help cut through the fattiness and boost flavors. The sour beers will clean the pallet and are great to pair with, but I’d caution cooking with them.
- Saisons – Saison Dupont (one of my absolute favorites with fried food)
- Belgian Blond Ale – Trappist Westvleteren Blond
- Trappist – Orval (another favorite)
- Witbier – Allagash White
- American Wild – New Belgium Le Terroir
- Gose – West Brook Gose (the saltiness provides an additional boost in flavor, and this is one of my all-time favorite commercial beers)
- Berliner Weisse – Professor Fritz Briem 1809
My Top Choices
If I had to make a lightning-fast decision when asked what beers to serve and/or cook with for fried shrimp, here would be my three top choices:
- Saison Dupont
- Boston Lager
- Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout for a twist
For me, it would really depend on the time of year and what else was being served.
The Saison Dupont would be a great summertime beer and would brighten up any fried dish because it would help cut through the greasiness of the fat.
An oatmeal stout would be great during the winter months when you might want the dish to seem a little heartier.
Now I recommend you play with just about any and all beer styles.
Beers to Avoid Cooking With
There are some beer styles I’d avoid cooking with.
Some beer styles are just too strong in flavor and will impart astringent flavors or just straight-up weirdness. And you don’t want beers to overwhelm the dish and takeover (unless that’s what you’re aiming for).
Here are the styles I’d avoid unless you’re looking for adventure:
- Russian imperial stout,
- Doppelbock, Eisbock,
- Double/Imperial IPA, or
- Belgian dark strong.
All of these styles I think will either create clashing flavors or impart an unpleasant bitterness. However, if you’re feeling brave, give these styles a try too.
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