Matching the perfect beer will enhance any dining experience. Picking the wrong beer could ruin a perfectly good dish. It takes great practice and knowledge to make the perfect pairing. There are three principles to follow when trying to make a perfect pairing between a food dish and a glass of beer.
1) Match Strength: You should always try to pair a strong beer with a strong dish, a delicate beer with a delicate dish. Assess the richness of the food and its cooking method, and then pick a beer based on its alcoholic strength, hop bitterness, sweetness, etc to create a similar match. Order a glass of pale ale with a heavier appetizer. Light dishes can be matched with lagers, roasted foods with amber lager or pale ale, and a heartier dish with a stout. Avoid very hoppy beers when eating spicy dishes as it may make the stinging worse.
2)Find Harmonies: Examine the food ingredients and its preparations to find common flavors and aromas that are also found in the beer. It's a simple principle but it takes familiarity with food preparation techniques and the ability to pinpoint key flavors and aromas in both the food and beer to make the pairing work out well.
3)Contrast Elements: As mentioned, you want to create a balance. The beer should not overwhelm the food, and vice versa. This is where finding contrast qualities come in. Sweet and fatty foods can be balanced by the level of hop bitterness, alcohol content, and carbonation. Spicy foods are balanced by the sweetness and maltiness of the beer.
It is important to understand the characteristics of both the beer and food dish before putting the two together. Everything is a learning process. Trial and error is the best approach to building great pairings. Be ambitious next time you're ordering up a drink and see what works best for you.