Ask a Cicerone: The Best Beers for Tacos

The best beer pairings for taco night. . J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

There are very few things in this world that make us happier than tacos, but one of those things is tacos-and-beer. Because a delicious ale or lager really does make the meal better. If you're picking up a sixpack for taco night, what style of beer should you choose? We asked our crew of experts for their beer pairing recommendations when tacos (with carnitas, or carne asada, or crisp fried fish) are on the menu.

"My all-time favorite is a simple carnitas taco with some salsa verde, cilantro, and a squirt of citrus; it's as classically Californian as West Coast IPAs—a style that was born to be served with tacos! The alcohol and hop bitterness cut through the richness of the pork and refresh the palate while the citrusy hop flavors match the salsa and the fresh squeeze of citrus juice. Then, the real magic of the combination happens when the salsa's heat is intensified by the IPA's hops; my mouth is watering just thinking about it."—John Verive (Beer of Tomorrow, Beer Paper LA)

"A Vienna lager, like Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager, won't overpower the taco fillings, whether they're spicy or mild, but has a bit more depth of flavor than a light lager to stand up to a spicy salsa or cut through the richness of a guacamole. An English-style bitter, like Oliver's ESB or Stoudt's Scarlet Lady ESB, is another good option with tacos, as the light caramel flavor pairs well with char of carne asada, the sweetness of carnitas, and the batter of fried fish taco fillings."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)

"For carnitas or chicken I'd usually go towards a more malt forward beer like an amber ale—Bell's Amber is a great choice. It has enough hop bitterness to help combat all that thick guacamole and resonates with slightly sweet tomato and cilantro. For carne asada you could go even bigger with a nice brown ale or porter. I love Great Lake's Edmund Fitzgerald. The char on the meat will echo the roasty flavor in the beer, while the malt backbone cools the heat from any spice. That being said if you love spicy flavors, a more hop-bitter beer will bring out those spicy hot flavors. Nothing wrong with a nice citrusy West Coast IPA like Stone Brewing's classic to wash down a taco or two. For fried fish I'd go with more of an effervescent beer like a saison - the carbonation will really clean up any lingering oil and the citrusy peppery flavor will work wonders with the fish and cilantro."—Lindsay Bohanske (Love Beer, Love Food)


"German wheat beers, with their citrusy flavors and effervescence, are especially good with fried fish tacos, cutting through the overall richness with ease, but at the same time the slightly creamy mouthfeel resonates perfectly with toppings like crema and guacamole."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)

"Shredded chicken or fried fish heaped with guacamole deserves something bright and citrusy like an American Pale Ale or IPA—New Glarus Moon Man and Surly Furious come to mind. However, my favorite taco pairing matches a robust, highly-flavorful meat like barbacoa or steak mole with a smoky rauchbier—try Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen or Urbock—it will change the way you look at tacos."—Pat Fahey (The Cicerone Certification Program)

"Spicy carnitas tacos want a Schwarzbier or other sweeter dark lager, try asada with relatively low-ABV but still hoppy American Pales Ale. For a fish taco I tend to want something really mild, especially if you are like an you dowse them in citrus, reach for a simple pale lager or a wheat beer."—Sayre Piotrkowski (Hog's Apothecary)

"Pale ales are my go-to for taco nights. Whether it be crispy fried fish, spicy carnitas or run 'o the mill ground beef, a pale ale like Odell's Leprechaun Session Pale with bubbly effervescence, sweet honey malt and soft floral flavors is perfect to cut through the oily batter, enhance the burn of the spicy pork or round out and add complexity the simple beef and cheese combo."—Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)

"A beer that you can find in many a Mexican restaurant and most bars that works really well with tacos is Negra Modelo. This is a very traditional style of Vienna lager that is hard to find anywhere in Europe but is often available in Mexico. The slightly roasted, and caramel flavors in the beer are a good match for the caramelized flavors in carnitas, roasted flavors of the carne asada, while the light-medium body is good with fried fish. Taco toppings and lager are a good match with the noble hops working well with the fresh pico and spice of the salsa, as the creaminess of the guac and the smooth character in the beer match well."—Bill Carl (Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii)


"The classic pairing for Mexican food is an IPA, which often have herbal hop characteristics that match up nicely, plus their bracing bitterness provides contrast to the rich mouth-coating food. The problem there is that bitterness also accentuates spicy heat. For carnitas and carne asada tacos I like a strong, dry, refreshing beer without bitterness, such as Ayinger Ur-Weisse Dunkelweizen, which features an amber color and caramel malt note that mates up nicely with caramelized meats."—Chris Cohen (San Francisco Homebrewers Guild)

"My favorite Mexican food/beer pairing is any Vienna style lager such as Negra Modelo or Great Lakes's Eliot Ness. Malt forward beers such as Vienna lagers are great when it comes to soothing the heat of spicy salsa. With lighter tacos like fried fish, German and Czech pilsners tend to do really well, they have a firm bitterness able to cut through fatty fried foods, but a restrained intensity that won't overpower the dish."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)

"A crispy fish taco with a Belgian wit is divine; the herbal notes and delicate citrus flavors of the beer are delicious with the flaky white fish. Two Brothers Monarch Wit is a great seasonal example. For carnitas tacos: a great choice is Great Divide's Orabelle, which is a Belgian style tripel brewed with coriander, a natural fit for pairing with Mexican dishes. The herbal notes and hints of sweetness mixed with the high carbonation give it enough ooomph to cut through the pork, herbs, garlic, you name it. Finally, I love a good carne asada, especially the browned bits. Those are highlighted so well by a great amber ale with caramel and nutty malt flavors. A medium bodied beer such as Anderson Valley's Boont Amber has enough structure and crispness for a rich meat dish but is mild enough not to overpower it."—Anne Becerra (The Ginger Man)

"Two good options for tacos: a Bavarian weissbier or an authentic pilsner. The main tool of both beers is their crisp and bountiful carbonation. It will slice through the fattiness of the avocado, meat, and beans but still be able to stand up to the spice of the salsa. If you're going for tacos on the heavier meat side, I'd pick the weissbier over the pilsner. Either will do well with carnitas. The pilsner might be a better choice with the fish tacos, fried or grilled. The pilsner will serve as more of a neutral foil to the flavors of the tacos and allow you to have a tasty palate cleanser that will make that next bite of taco just as good as the first. The weissbier, on the other hand, will add its own flavor into the mix and have a nice give and take with your tacos. The brighter citrus flavors generated by the weissbier yeast will match up with the lime you just squeezed over the top. Sierra Nevada's Kellerweis is probably one of the best American examples of a Bavarian-style weissbier. If you want to go more traditional, Kloster Andechs Weissbier Hell is an outstanding example of the traditional Bavarian wheat beer with the added fun fact that it's brewed by Benedictine monks! Pilsner Urquell would be my default choice of beers for the pilsner. Since they started express cold shipping it to the US, this beer is tasting fantastic and fresh."—Christopher Barnes (I Think About Beer and Columbia Distributing)

"I love drinking American Pale Ales with any and all tacos. APAs have the malt backbone to pull out breadiness from the shell or tortilla and the hop bitterness is enough to accentuate spices and seasonings without becoming overwhelming. The citrusy hop flavors add complexity and a touch of sweetness. Favorites include Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale and the classic, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale."—Sean Coughlin (Genesee Brew House)