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Corned Beef And Beer: Why It Works And What You Can Try Instead

Many Americans associate corned beef with Saint Patrick's Day, cabbage, and beer. While it is debatable whether or not corned beef is actually an Irish dish, there are valid reasons why it pairs excellently with an assortment of beers, including many classic Irish beers.  Below you will learn three reasons why corned beef should be paired with beer and what you can substitute on the days you don't feel like drinking beer. 

Beer and Corned Beef 

Did you ever wonder why almost any beer makes corned beef taste that much better? Corned beef and beer work well together for the following three reasons: 

  1. Salt. Corned beef is a salted meat. In fact, its name comes from the large corns of salt it is packed in while curing. Acidic beers, such as wild ales, lambics, and red ales complement the salt in corned beef. While the salt tones down the initial bitterness of these beers, the acidity makes the salt-flavor less strong. While most of these beers are served chilled, you may want to try one at just below room temperature, as chilled beer actually increases your perception saltiness. 
  2. Fat.  Corned beef tends to be a fatty cut of beef. This can lead to a full, heavy feeling while you are eating or soon after your meal. Acidic beers cut the feeling of fat, making your meal seem lighter. This allows you to taste the complex flavors of the beef and its seasonings while you eat it. 
  3. ​Carbonation. The carbonation in beer gently cleanses your mouth of food particles. This helps to reset your palate between bites and make each bite taste more flavorful. 

Most of the reasons for pairing beer with corned beef tend to point towards bitter beers as the best option. However, corned beef is often served with stouts and malts. This has to do with preparation. If the corned beef is roasted or smoked, it will pair exceptionally well with a stout or a malt which also has complex, smokey flavors. 

Alternative Drinks to Pair with Corned Beef 

Although corned beef pairs excellently with beer, there are some days when you cannot or do not want to drink beer. On those days, you can try one of these alternative bitter and acidic drinks to get the most intense flavor experience from your meal: 

  • Hops Tea. Tea is a slightly acidic drink, but when paired with hops, it receives a bitter kick that pairs well with both the salt and fat in corned beef. You can use fresh hops or you can purchase tea-bags filled with dry hops. To make a batch of hops tea, simply add one hops tea bag or 3-4 fresh hops for each regular bag of tea that you use. You can cold brew, hot brew, or sun brew your hops tea and enjoy at room temperature with your corned beef. 
  • Tonic Water. Tonic water has both the bitterness that counteracts the heaviness of corned beef and the carbonation that helps cleanse your palate between bites. Although it is usually served chilled to counteract its own bitterness, try it at a slightly warmer temperature for the best pairing. 
  • Rhubarb Juice. If you are enjoying a Reuben sandwich on a warm day, consider pairing it with rhubarb juice. Rhubarb provides a complex, bitter flavor, and you can water down your juice to create the optimal pairing for your specific tastes. 

While the best pairing for any meal remains whatever drink you prefer, you should keep in mind that the high fat and salt content of corned beef makes it work especially well with acidic and bitter drinks, served at room temperature or only slightly chilled.