People 2 minutes 25 April 2016

Ask the Experts: Chilli and craft beer pairing

We tap on Singapore's most celebrated craft beer entrepreneur for cues on finding the best brews to beat the heat - of your food that is.

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Always had a burning question but not sure who to ask? In our regular Ask the Experts section, we do all the noseying about so you don't have to. 

For the first of our brand new series, we steal a few seconds with Daniel Goh, former marketeer turned craft beer entrepreneur whose humble hawker stalls the Good Beer Company and Smith Street Taps in the Chinatown Complex Food Centre have been proudly flying the Singapore flag lately.

Dear Daniel, I love my craft beers as much as I love my chilli padi. Any tips on how to go about choosing craft brews that pair well with really spicy local food?

First up I’d like to say that as with most food pairings – whether it is with wine, spirits or beer – there is really no hard and fast rule that gives you the perfect pairing. One of the reasons is that our palates all work differently so some people taste certain flavours more than others.

The best way to approach this is to understand the flavours offered by both your food and beer – whether it is sweet, spicy, sour, salty, bitter, or any combination of the above.

So you like spicy food – but what kind of spicy? There’s the spicy and sour tanginess of chili crab, rich earthy spiciness of beef rendang or satay, as well as the creamy coconutty spiciness of laksa, for example.

“"The best way to approach this is to understand the flavours offered by both your food and beer – whether it is sweet, spicy, sour, salty, bitter, or any combination of the above."”

That said, the variety of styles in craft beers really offer many possible combinations so there are certain recommendations that one can follow. Some experts will recommend that you find complementary flavours in your food and drink; other experts prefer contrasting flavours to engage your entire palate.

Here are some tips to pairing beer with spicy food:

  • Effervescence (in beer) increases spiciness but refreshes your palate.
  • Bitterness enhances spiciness as well as cleanses the palate.
  • Sweetness and maltiness dulls or counteracts spiciness.
  • Sourness and acidity cleans out and refreshes the palate.
  • The higher the alcohol content (ABV), the spicier your spicy food will taste.

For example, a malty English bitter (pale ale) which is normally slightly sweeter plays a lovely contrast with the spiciness of chili crab or the ginger and garlic-based chilli sauce that comes with chicken rice, but you may want to opt for a more bubbly Bavarian style wheat beer if you like it spicy but want to cleanse out the rich oiliness of chicken rice.

The earthier beef rendang, on the other hand, may call for a dry Irish stout if you want to complement the roasty, nutty flavours without weighing too much on the palate.

One of the more interesting pairings I’ve had was spicy and sour tom yum goong with a Belgian tripel, which is both sweet and alcoholic – it gives you exceedingly intense yet balanced flavours all at once!

For true chilli-heads, opt for a highly carbonated, hop-forward American West Coast style India Pale Ale with a higher ABV to boost spiciness to stratospheric levels.

As you can see it’s all about experimenting with different flavour combinations to see what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately find a pairing that you can really enjoy.

Daniel Goh is an F&B entrepreneur as the founder and director of The Good Beer Company, a business that focuses on introducing premium craft beers to Singaporeans. The Good Beer Company currently runs an on-premise hawker stall selling bottled beers in Chinatown, and co-owns another outlet in Smith Street Taps, which sells premium beers on ten rotating taps.

“In our next edition of Ask the Experts: we talk to meat aficionado Andre Huber of Huber’s Butchery. Send in your questions to with 'Ask the Experts' in the title and we’ll help you find the answer.”


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