Why Spicy Food And Beer Pair So Well, According To A Hot Sauce Expert

A plate of hot wings alongside a glass of cold beer is a classic. On the one hand, they taste good, and there's some science to why beer and Buffalo wings work together. Also, beer can sometimes (but not always) wash away the spice of "hot" wings, and there's some trickier science here, too.


According to HEATONIST founder and CEO Noah Chaimberg, "There's a reason people love chasing hot wings with a cold beer! The sweetness of a maltier beer can balance the acidity of some hot sauces, while the bitter hops in an IPA can complement the fruity notes of peppers like habaneros." And flavor isn't the only reason that beer and hot sauce mix: "Alcohol can actually diffuse capsaicin. People tend to crave a refreshing drink when eating spicy food, whether it helps with the heat or not." In short, if you love the taste of spice but not the powerful, lingering aftertaste, a swig of beer can wash out the former with a flavor that blends well.

Drinking beer with hot sauce

Of course, not all beers are the same, and if you're getting into flavor pairings, you need to be picky about your beers (also, not all beers react with spiciness the same way). Noah Chaimberg explains, "For lighter beers, try hot sauces with similarly light and bright flavors like citrus, fruit, or even with floral ingredients." On the other hand, he adds, "A dark beer can stand up to hot sauces with smokier notes or more intense ingredients."


For example, chicken wings are often made with Buffalo sauce containing cayenne peppers. Like Frank's or Trappey's, these sauces usually rack up between 450 and 1500 SHU (Scoville heat units) on the Scoville Scale. They have a brighter flavor, which pairs well with, say, a Mexican lager or a summer ale. But a dish with Tabasco sauce, especially their chipotle pepper sauce, hits a stronger 2500 SHU and could go with a porter or stout. So when you're getting beers for your Super Bowl chicken wings, it's worth double-checking how the wings are being made.

Beer and spice faux pas

Are there any beers to avoid with spicy foods? Not when it comes to simple lagers and ales, but more specific beer types can lead to clunky combinations. Many craft beers from local or large breweries have unique flavors that don't always mesh well with other foods. For example, don't mix pungent flavors with a dessert beer, ranging from pastry stouts to extra-sweet fruit beers to anything overly creamy or milk-based.


Our expert Noah Chaimberg says, "I would avoid eating super garlic or onion-forward hot sauces when drinking a dessert beer. Instead, look for a hot sauce without those savory aromatics." Remember that like goes with like — savory beers are much less common, but they can include smoke beers, oyster stouts, some IPAs and sour ales. These are a better fit for garlic-heavy sauces than a milk stout or any beer heavy on chocolate flavors.