The best beer for making chili depends on the recipe you use. Is your chili spicy? Does it have a hint of sweetness with a low to medium spice profile?
The best beer for making chili depends on the kind of chili you’re making. Darker, richer beers are better for hotter, spicier chilis. More mild beers are better for medium to low spice chilis. For spicy ghost pepper chili, use a stout or a porter. For a sweet onion and white bean chili, use an American pale ale or a pilsner.
Read on to dig into the chili and beer relationship – what it does and how to choose the right beer – as well as chili and beer combinations for 14 major beer styles.
Do beer and chili go together?
One thing we do know for a fact is that chili comes from Southern Texas. The dish has roots that date back from 1700 and, although there aren’t any written documents or recipes that say, “add one can of beer,” it’s up for speculation that someone somewhere added the drink to their chili.
Whether the origin of chili or its immediate successors included beer in recipes or not, is up in the air. We do know – at least now – though, that chili and beer go together. The beer in chili reduces and provides a thicker and fuller flavor to the dish – one that you won’t obtain through plain water.
Some say that adding chili to beer makes it better. All subjectivity aside, it definitely adds definition and prominent, delicious flavor.
Does beer make chili better?
Do you need to add beer to chili? Is it the only thing that will make your recipe award-winning?
Chili is meant to be thick and flavorful. Adding beer to chili will enhance these qualities and make them better. The beer will reduce and the ingredients already present in the chili will become even more flavorful. It will also thicken the dish for a greater mouthfeel.
Since beer enhances the qualities that you look for in a good chili, it’s safe to say that beer does, in fact, make chili better.
How to pair chili and beer together
With so many flavors and ways to make chili, it can be difficult to decide how to pair it with beer. What are common chili flavors? How do chili flavors work with beer?
Almost all chili recipes contain some kind of meat (usually beef), tomatoes, beans, and chili peppers – these are the ingredients that make chili, chili.
Different chili flavors are rooted in the different chili peppers used.
Some of the most common types of chili peppers – and therefore, chili – are bell peppers, habaneros, ghost peppers, and jalapeños.
Finding the right way to pair beer with your chili recipe revolves around the types of peppers used.
Without getting too far into detail just yet, the general rule for beer in chili is: the hotter or spicier the pepper, the darker the beer should be.
The beer you pair with your chili should complement and accentuate its flavor. For example, it’s common to use darker and sweeter beers in spicier recipes. The beer’s rich flavors get reduced into the chili, maintaining some sweetness that cuts some of the spice still present from the peppers.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s use our knowledge and get into the specifics of the best beer styles to use in chili.
The best beer styles and flavors to use in chili recipes
So, where do you start if you are looking for the right brew for your next batch of chili?
Well, start right here! Below are the most popular and versatile beers that you can use with chili with included tasting notes, flavors, and ideal flavor pairings.
American Pale Ale
American pale ales were inspired by English pale ales. Americans introduced citrusy and piney American hops in place of herbal and earthy English hops.
- Tasting notes and flavors – These beers taste mostly like the hops used; citrusy and piney. They’re lighter than their India pale ale counterparts, but still have a prominent hop flavor.
- Why it works in chili recipes – On the lighter side of beers, the American Pale Ale works in chili recipes for that reason. The taste goes greatly with respectively light chili peppers and adds enough flavor and thickness to the dish without overpowering other ingredients.
- Beers to try – Some American pale ales to add to your chili today are Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
Supposedly discovered during international shipments of beer from Great Britain to India, these beers were pumped full of hops to preserve the beer’s freshness. In turn, it created the hoppy India Pale Ale.
- Tasting notes and flavors – These beers are hoppier than pale ales and can be tweaked on their own to include a myriad of flavors. Common characteristics for these beers include hoppy, citrusy, piney, floral, and resiny.
- Why it works in chili recipes – Because there are so many types of IPAs that include many different tasting notes, they’re a great fit for chili. You can find one for any type of chili, but stick to the mild chili pepper flavors. Too spicy of chili will not pair well with the hoppiness and perceived spiciness of IPAs.
- Beers to try – A good IPA to add to your chili is ultimately one that you enjoy on its own. A good textbook IPA that guarantees great taste would be Bell’s Two Hearted Ale or Maine Beer Company’s Lunch.
Stouts, like most beers, come from Europe. They’re dark-colored and are enjoyed with bold and hearty dishes, like chili.
- Tasting notes and flavors – Stouts retain very rich flavors, with common characteristics being sweet, full, chocolatey, and coffee-like.
- Why it works in chili recipes – Stouts are the absolute perfect addition to a spicy chili recipe. One with jalapeños would be the best fit, as the rich flavors of the stout contrast and balance the spicy chili flavor.
- Beers to try – A couple good picks for stouts to add to chili would be Dogfish Head’s Chicory Stout and Rogue’s Chocolate Stout.
Wheat beers (witbiers) have generally been brewed with coriander and orange peel. They’ve evolved to include other types of herbs and spices, as well as different fruits and citrusy flavors.
- Tasting notes and flavors – Like the ingredients used, these beers are spicy and citrusy. They have a prominent wheaty and earthy taste from the unmalted wheat used.
- Why it works in chili recipes – Witbiers are best used in mild-medium spiced chilis. The herbal spice and citrusy tastes won’t get lost in the chili flavor and will shine through to complement them, instead of fighting with them.
- Beers to try – A great witbier to add to your chili would be Allegash’s White or Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat.
American or Mexican Light Lagers
These two beers use particular lager yeast strains and are derivatives of the German pilsener.
- Tasting notes and flavors – Light lagers retain a golden-straw and opaque appearance with a light and crisp taste, similar to corn syrup or bread.
- Why it works in chili recipes – These beers won’t do a ton for your chili’s taste but will do wonders to bring out the flavors and textures most desirable in a chili recipe.
- Beers to try – Add Yuengling’s Traditional Lager or New Glarus’ Two Women to your chili for thickness and heightened flavor.
Almost entirely similar to lagers, pilsners are straight from Europe and pack more variety and flavor.
- Tasting notes and flavors – Pilsners are German hop and malt forward with some sweetness and a short, crisp finish.
- Why it works in chili recipes – These beers add a bit of hoppy spice and sweetness to a medium to high spice chili. One that is made with habaneros or jalapeños is the ideal candidate.
- Beers to try – A good pilsner to add to your chili is Victory Prima Pils.
Amber Ales are named after their golden amber color that comes from the roasted malts used.
- Tasting notes and flavors – This beer style uses sweeter malts, like caramel and crystal, that are roasted to give it a subtly-sweet taste and amber color.
- Why it works in chili recipes – Amber ales work best in medium spiced chilis that include some amount of cayenne pepper to compliment the beer’s sweetness.
- Beers to try – The ideal beer to include in your medium chili recipe would be Straub’s Amber Lager or New Belgium’s Fat Tire.
English Pale Ale
This beer’s characteristics come from the English hops used. They’re also known as mild ales.
- Tasting notes and flavors – English pale ales are malt-forward and taste earthy with a subtle fruity taste to them. They can be very bitter.
- Why it works in chili recipes – These beers work best in a low spice, bell pepper chili. The bitterness and sweetness pairs best with a chili that is sweet itself. One that might include a pinch or so of sugar in the recipe.
- Beers to try – An English pale ale to include in your sweet chili is Epic Brewing’s Mid Mountain Mild Ale.
Porters range in style, being either English, American, Baltic, and more. They mostly all retain similar characteristics.
- Tasting notes and flavors – Porters have a roasted or burnt taste from the roasted malt used during the brewing process. They range in intensity, color, and flavor, with some being chocolatey or coffee-like, and others being hoppy.
- Why it works in chili recipes – Porters are thick and rich, no doubt about it. They have bold dark flavors that go best with the spiciest of chilis. Try adding one to a ghost pepper chili to compliment the atomic spicy flavor.
- Beers to try – A great porter to add to your chili is Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald. A more easily accessible option is Sierra Nevada’s Porter.
Hefeweizens are brewed with a boatload of malted wheat and a unique yeast strain.
- Tasting notes and flavors – Hefeweizens taste like bananas, because of the yeast strain used. They have a balanced taste with additional notes of clove. They’re highly carbonated.
- Why it works in chili recipes – The wheat flavor of these beers do wonders for spicy habanero chili. It will bring out the flavors of the spices while not overburdening the chili with it’s own flavors.
- Beers to try – The best hefeweizen to add to your chili is Ayinger’s Bräuweisse.
These beers can be made using two types of yeast: ale or lager. They’re versatile beers that can be made to include a large variety of flavors on top of the wheat malt used.
- Tasting notes and flavors – These beers are very pale with both low IBUs and ABV. They’ve been brewed to include fruits and berries, and even chilis.
- Why it works in chili recipes – Another beer style that works well with low to medium spice chilis. Bell pepper chili or cumin spiced chili make the best dish to include American Wheat beers in.
- Beers to try – Add some of summer’s most popular beers like Bell’s Oberon or Samuel Adams’ Summer Wheat to your chili recipe for a bright and mild-tasting chili.
Sours are unique in that their taste and color vary widely depending on the ingredients used.
- Tasting notes and flavors – Sours taste like the fruits or ingredients used in brewing. Microorganisms are added directly to the wort before boiling to develop the intended “sourness”, and the other ingredients are added during primary fermentation to obtain a mouth-puckering, fruity taste.
- Why it works in chili recipes – A sour would do nicely in a chili recipe that has a medium-level of spice with some sweetness, perhaps from a sweet onion.
- Beers to try – The most prominent and easily-accessible commercial example that will provide great taste is Dogfish Head’s SeaQuench Ale.
American Brown Ale
American Brown Ales were likely inspired by English Brown ales and other European beer styles.
- Tasting notes and flavors – These beers are sweet with notes of chocolate and caramel, and also hoppy with a full mouthfeel and dark body.
- Why it works in chili recipes – A chili recipe that includes grilled chicken and medium to high spice would make the best use of a brown ale. The sweetness and full body will cut the char taste nicely and compliment the spice.
- Beers to try – Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog would make a great addition to a recipe similar to the one I mentioned.
American barleywines are more hop-forward than their English counterparts. They’re seen less often in the U.S. and are among the strongest of beers.
- Tasting notes and flavors – These beers are always strong. They’re sometimes fruit-forward and are sometimes bitter. English barleywines are usually not as strong tasting as the American version.
- Why it works in chili recipes – Barleywines work well in a medium to high spiced chili. The strength of this beer calls for a smaller amount when included in the chili recipe to not overpower the dish’s tastes.
- Beers to try – Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot is a good barleywine to start with if adding one to a chili.
Belgian Dubbels and Tripels
These beers are complex and yeast-forward. They’re usually bottle-conditioned.
- Tasting notes and flavors – Belgian Dubbels are darker in color. They have a chocolate and caramel nose with a banana taste from the yeast strain used. Belgian Tripels are light in color. They have a high ABV but are very approachable with a sweeter taste.
- Why it works in chili recipes – These beers work well with sweet chili. With a tad bit of a spice on their own, they help out the chili recipe by complimenting the sweet flavors present in the dish.
- Beers to try – For a Belgian Dubbel, try Allegash’s Double. For a Belgian Tripel, go for Victory’s Golden Monkey.
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