The 1980s television series Cheers™ didn’t just give us Norm as the ideal beer-drinking buddy, it also memorialized peanuts as the iconic, salty bar snack to go along with a pint of beer. But even before the show aired, peanuts already had a seat at the bar. As one beer expert explains, there is a gastronomical reason these two are a perfect pairing.
“If you think about Cheers™ or classic bar ideas, there always was a bowl of peanuts along the bar,” said Andy Sparhawk, Certified Cicerone®, beer judge and Craft Beer Program web manager for the CraftBeer.com. “And those beers back in the day used to be more malt-forward, and that roasted, rich character of the peanuts worked really well with a light, malt-flavored beer.”
Sparhawk specializes in beer and food pairings, and he said that the opposing characteristics of beer and peanuts delightfully balance each other in gastronomical harmony. Thirsty bar flies have long appreciated this synergy between the two, but food and beer connoisseurs also consider this dynamic duo one of the ultimate flavor combinations. Pairing peanuts with the right kind of beer enhances both complementary elements.
Analyzing an Ale’s Chemistry With Peanuts
“Looking at normal sorts of things that beer provides to a pairing, you're thinking about, does it complement? Does it contrast? What are the mechanisms in the carbonation that help bring out those sorts of flavors,” Sparhawk said. “When I think about peanuts, I think of richness, certainly some good fats in there, the flavor, and that roasted, salty sort of character."
Balancing that richness requires a beer that cleanses and refreshes the mouth so that you can continue to eat heavier-feeling foods.
“Hops and carbonation are going to cut through that richness,” Sparhawk said. “You can chew up a bunch of peanuts then drink some water and it would cleanse you a little bit. But that cutting action of the carbonation and the hops [in beer] help lift that off your palate and – in the same way that acidity works for wine – help you not feel so sated and over-full, so you’re ready for your next bite.”
In fact, the roasted, salty and unctuous characteristics of peanuts also provide balance by taming the bitter hops and astringent tannins of beer. So, what hoppy, effervescent type of beer goes best with peanuts? According to the pairing guide from CraftBeer.com, most American-style ales (pale, brown or black), and dark porters offer the right elements to complement and contrast with the characteristics of peanuts.
Spice It Up and Get Social
Seasoned and spiced peanuts expand those pairing possibilities even further. Sparhawk suggests helles or amber ale with spicy peanuts, and something more bitter, like an IPA, with a sweet or candied peanut. If you’re still unsure about the best flavor combinations, Nuts for Drinks is a company that has removed all the guesswork by offering crunchy coated peanuts seasoned to pair with specific types of beer.
Besides having a balanced flavor chemistry, the Cheers™ sitcom showed that there is familiarity and comfort in food experiences that brings people together, and peanuts and beer are a defining example of that experience. “The social component of cracking open peanuts and drinking beer with family at your house or going to a place that has peanuts that you can crack open and toss the shells is very communal,” Sparhawk said.
Peanuts are the yin to beer’s yang. Pairing them together strikes the right balance of flavors, textures and tasting notes for the ultimate in food experiences. It’s a comforting combination that elicits a sense of nostalgia and joy – like going to a place where everybody knows your name.