Sushi is a delicate food. Its portions, ingredients, and even the culture surrounding it all celebrate the power of simplicity. Because of that simplicity, every ingredient grows in importance. Overall, we recommend a beer that develops slowly across the palate, and won’t overwhelm the sushi or your taste buds. The sublime combination of rice, fish, soy sauce, and often nori (toasted seaweed) is what we’re trying to match our beer to.
THE BEAUTY OF CLEAN, CRISP BEER
In Japan, the ubiquity of bright, refreshing lager is not accidental. Asahi Super Dry, Kirin IchiBan, Sapporo Premium Beer—all of these share a similar light and dry flavor profile that pairs perfectly with sushi. They’re also perfectly suited to the flavors you’ll find in sushi staples like toro, salmon, or eel. That’s not to say that American beer isn’t up to the same task. In many American pilsners or blonde ales, you’ll find a similar profile: dry, balanced, light, and with that refreshing carbonation that basically all beer is famous for. The yeast and malt-derived flavors in pilsners and blonde ales beautifully complement the intense flavors of umami that are formed by the soy sauce, fish, and vinegar-hinted rice. Their carbonation and dry finish also prepares the palate for another bite.
If you prefer to be traditional, go for a Japanese lager, a great one is Orion Draft Lager from Okinawa, Japan. Or you can branch out and enjoy your sushi with a pilsner or blonde ale. Something that is light, dry, golden, and balanced. – Allagash Truepenny Pilsner, Allagash Nowaday
One key aspect of sushi is the slight hint of mirin, or rice-wine vinegar, in the rice itself. Playing up that bit of acid generally works quite well for us when pairing foods at the brewery. In particular, a witbier like Allagash White has just the right hint of complementary acidity, alongside the Curaçao orange peel and coriander that we brew it with. These flavors are amplified when paired with a savory dish like sushi, and vice versa. In particular, we love the balance it finds with the teriyaki-like flavor of an eel roll, or the way it calms the heat in a spicy tuna roll. Another style of beer that could work on this front would be a pale ale, with its hop-derived hint of citrus. The less bitterness in the beer, the more other flavors will be able to shine.
Slightly citrusy and balanced beer like a witbier or pale ale – Allagash White, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
DOUBLE DOWN ON UMAMI
This is absolutely not the typical suggestion you’ll find for sushi pairing, but it’s one that’s worth experiencing. Umami is the well-documented “fifth flavor” (beyond sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness) found in dishes like roasted tomatoes, soy sauce, and cured meats. Also rich in flavor is roasted malt, which is found in darker beers like stouts, porters, dunkels, and black ales. With roasted malt comes a more intense flavor, so, as we said before, you have to really be careful in your pairing choice. Look for a stout that has a lower ABV (around 7% at the highest) and body that’s light in mouthfeel. The roast of the beer serves to underscore that deep, rich umami flavor and creates a memorable experience.
Lighter, lowish-ABV stout or dark beer – Allagash North Sky, Guinness Stout