We know as much as the next person that the stakes for good meals are highest during the holiday season. While good beer and good food always go well together, we wanted to arm our fans with the information they need to create a beer and food combination to remember, so we sat down with sensory research and taproom teams to find out the science — and art — behind pairing beer and food.

There’s no one way to pair beer and food. While having more options can seem daunting, it actually allows us to choose pairings that are tailor-made to the occasion or the course in which you’re serving them. Let’s get started with the basics.

There are three key components in pairing that are important to keep in mind while choosing your menu. We refer to the first component as “complement,” which is pretty self explanatory. For this component, you’ll want to find harmonies, or similar flavors, between the beer and the dish you’re serving it with.

The second component is just the opposite: “contrast.” For a contrasting pairing, the main flavor profile of the dish should be opposite the main flavor profile of the beer.

The final component is “cut,” which means you’ll use the beer to cleanse the flavors from the dish and reset your palate to neutral.

Complementary pairings may be the most obvious. Enjoying a taster of Cinnamon Dolce Nitro Stout alongside a bite of local chocolate is a great example of a complementary pairing. Contrasting and cutting pairings are where it can feel a bit more complicated. Let’s break it down.

Both contrasting and cutting pairings have one common goal: balance. Consider the primary flavors of the dish, and select a beer pairing that offers balancing flavors.

A sweet or rich food is best balanced by beers with hop bitterness, roasted malt carbonation, and alcohol. For example, if you’re serving something savory like a burger, we’d recommend pairing it with Union Jack West Coast IPA.

Foods that are spicy or high in acidity are well balanced by beers that have sweet or malty characteristics. We’d recommend pairing a spicy dish with a beer like Velvet Merlin or Stickee Monkee.

So there you have it. Now you can pair food and beer like a Firestone Walker pro. If you use this info to plan your menus and enjoy your pairings this holiday season, be sure to tag us @firestonewalker to show us how you did. Cheers!