For different reasons, pumpkin pie from Two Fat Cats Bakery pairs well with both Sweet Woods from Boothbay Craft Brewery and Pumpkin Party from Lone Pine. Photo by Caitlin Enz

Fall might be my favorite time of year, food-wise. I love warming my hands on a bowl of chili, and I never say no to a baked gourd. So, I decided to see which Maine brews would pair best with chili and pumpkin pie.

When pairing, I keep the three Cs in mind: complement, contrast and cut. If a beer and a dish complement each other they have flavors or aromas in common; if they contrast, they have elements that oppose each other. “Cut” is when one of the items, usually the beer, mellows out an aspect of the other item. For example, a bitter IPA would cut through a fatty dish, making it less overwhelming.

Most beer cans provide little information about flavors, so it can be challenging to match a beer to a dish without trying the two together first. If I’m going to have guests over for a fancy dinner, I try out the main course with several beer options first, so I can offer one that will elevate the entire meal.

When I embarked on my fall pairing mission, I was longing for the vegan chili from LFK, so I decided to experiment with beers that were on tap at the Portland bar. For the pumpkin pie, I went with Two Fat Cats Bakery and chose one pumpkin beer and another with flavors I thought would complement pumpkin. Here’s what worked and what didn’t:


Style: Pale ale


Tasting notes: Cloudy and light yellow with a thin, white head. Smells like orange, passion fruit, hint of resin and pine. Smooth, medium bitterness reminiscent of an orange peel, with flavors of orange, citrus and a discreet pine finish.

Pairing notes: As soon as I saw the cloudiness, I had an inkling that I had picked the wrong beer for the chili: It looked like a New England IPA. There was a lot of orange and tropical fruit in this beer, which didn’t work very well with the chili even though the bitterness of the beer did do a good job of cutting through the heartiness of the dish.

Conclusion: The beer didn’t work well with the dish. In pairing a pale ale or IPA with this dish, I’d add lots of cheddar cheese to the top of my chili and try to find a beer that complements the nutty sharpness of the cheese.


Style: Brown Ale

Tasting notes: Pours light brown, with a thin, white head. Smells like toasted bread, slightly nutty, hint of caramel, red stone fruit scent becomes stronger as it warms. Tastes like toasted bread, with hints of caramel and nuttiness at the end. Notes of red stone fruit, maybe cherry.


Pairing notes: The chili brings out the caramel in the beer. The roasted malt matches nicely with the baked bean heartiness of the chili. The maltiness of the beer contrasts with and calms the spiciness of the chili (both the heat from jalapenos and the spiciness of cumin). The slight bitterness and carbonation of the beer cleans the palate and makes you want seconds.

Conclusion: Good pairing, the beer and the chili both complement and contrast each other.


Style: Pumpkin ale

Tasting notes: Light brown, thin white head. Smells like nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, allspice. Tastes like allspice, nutmeg, lots of spices.

Pairing notes: The spices in the beer and the pie complement each other. The bitterness and carbonation of the beer contrasts with the creamy sweetness of the pie.


Conclusion: Good pairing, the beer and the pie have many similar flavors and aromas.


Style: Oak-infused maple double brown

Tasting notes: Light brown, with a thin white head. Smells strongly of bourbon, with chocolate fudge and a whiff of toasted bread. Smooth beer that tastes like bourbon with a hint of vanilla and chocolate at the finish.

Pairing notes: The spices of the pie elevate the oak and maple notes of the beer. The carbonation and bitterness of the beer cut through the sweet thickness of the pie.

Conclusion: A decadent pairing.

Caitlin Enz is a Certified Cicerone® who lives in Portland. Follow her on Instagram at @hops_and_brains.

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