Ask a Cicerone: The Best Beers for Chinese Food

Get it delivered, or make General Tso's at home. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

The best Chinese restaurant may not have the best beer list, so you might be stuck between the choice of Tsingtao or Tsingtao. But if you're able to bring your own bottles...or you're grabbing dinner to go or prepping these dishes at home yourself, you get to consider how to really punch up your meal with a well-chosen beer. "It's a meal that wine doesn't ever quite nail, pairing-wise," says Certified Cicerone Bill Bonar. But that doesn't mean every beer will be a winner. We asked our crew of beer experts for their recommendations. Which beers go best with a few favorite Chinese dishes?

Here are their picks, dish by dish.

Dan Dan Noodles

Real Deal Dan Dan Noodles
Make our meaty or vegan dan dan noodles at home. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

"Chinese food is one of the oldest and most diverse styles of cuisine in the world, varying immensely depending on region, making choosing one beer to pair with the cuisine almost impossible. When pairing beers with heavily spiced dishes such as dan dan noodles; I like to pick beers with an equally complementary spice character, such as saison. Saison is known for its peppery, lemony flavors which enhance the intensity of the Sichuan peppercorns found in the dish. Saison's dry finish and effervescence will also help ease the chili oil heat of this dish."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)

"Tart Berliner Weisse, such as Bellwoods Weft and Warp. The lower alcohol, mild acidity, and slightly creamy texture help to cool the heat, and the effervescence is a nice contrast to the tongue numbing effect of the Sichuan peppercorns."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)

"This dish provides a spice unlike any other—almost medicinal in its tingly spiciness. To cut some of the heat, a traditional German wheat beer, such as Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, makes a superb pairing. The creamy, soft texture of a well-made Weissbier—coupled with its classic banana, clove and vanilla notes—wonderfully balances the spice."—Ryan Gavrick (Wirtz Beverage)

"For dan dan noodles, find a bottle of Ayinger Ur-Weisse. It's a true dunkelweisse: the richer, toastier malt and wheat are a great matchup to the toasty peanuts and bits of pork. The high carbonation is a great way to clean up the oiliness on the tongue while the creaminess of the wheat will calm down the intense spice."—Bill Carl (Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii)

"Pepe Nero from Goose Island Brewing Co. is a Belgian-style farmhouse ale brewed with peppercorns. Its lighter body and higher carbonation will cut through the chile oils, while the pepper plays well with Sichuan peppercorns and chili oil."— Aaron Shebah (Nevada Beverage Company)

"I really like Freigeist's Abraxxxas for this pairing. Brewed in the Berliner Weiss style, they add a layer of complexity by introducing some smoky character. The tartness of the beer matches with the Chinkiang vinegar in the noodles. The smoke present in Abraxxxas (but not commonly found in most Berliner Weissbiers) matches up beautifully with the roasty umami-rich character of dan dan noodles."—Brett Robison (Republic)

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup
Yes, you can make awesome hot and sour soup at home. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

"This dish is both spicy and sour, and it requires a beer that is balanced. Too much sweetness and you will be fighting against the heat; too much acidity and you can muddle the sour flavor that defines the soup. Deschutes River Ale offers exactly that balance, while being delicate enough to let the dish hold the spotlight. I like to call this beer an American ESB because it has the delicate malt presence that ESBs are known for, with an American twist on the hops, using Cascade and Crystal for flavor and aroma."—Ryan Gavrick (Wirtz Beverage)

"The bold spicy and sour flavors of hot and sour soup can shine through without competing with a malt-forward Oktoberfest or Märzen, such as Ayinger or Sam Adams Oktoberfest. The soup's flavors complement the soft sweetness of these beers."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)

"A California Common. Naturally this means Anchor Steam beer. The earthy rugged quality of northern brewer hops play well with the woody, earthy flavor in the mushrooms and bamboo shoots. The lager-like quality with a slight sweetness will cool the palate from the richer, spicier flavors in the soup."—Corey Esoldi (Societe Brewing)

"With this dish I really enjoy the Belgian Faro by Lindemans. These two really meld well together with the sourness of the soup and the tartness of the lambic complementing each other."—Bill Carl (Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii)

Fried Rice

Fried rice is one of the great one-bowl meals. Get the recipe here.. Shao Z.

"You can't go wrong with a Pilsner Urquell pairing for fried rice. The bready malt flavors will match the sweetness of the carrots and peas. The Saaz hops will work with garlic and other spices in the rice and the quenching quality of the beer will make short work of the rich oily rice and proteins. And there's good news: Pilsner Urquell now comes in brown bottles so there's less of a chance of getting a skunked one."—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)

"I would choose the slightly more bitter, hoppy American Amber Ale from Pizza Port, Shark Bite Red. The caramel notes and slight sweetness will balance out the fried rice. I chose a hoppier version because I wanted to play with the flavors of the egg."—Corey Esoldi (Societe Brewing)

"A smoked porter, such as Alaskan Smoked Porter or a more mild Rogue Smoke Ale, would be an interesting combination with fried rice. The smokiness plays well off the soy sauce and adds another dimension to the dish without overwhelming it."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)

"Fried rice pairs well with a Belgian Golden Strong ale, like Duvel. It's light bodied so it won't overfill you while eating, with nice fruity and spice aromas to complement the variety of meats and vegetables that can be used in this dish. It finishes off nice and dry to help clean your palate."— Melissa Long-Higgs (Nevada Beverage Company)

Eggplant with Garlic Sauce

Taiwanese Braised Eggplant with Garlic and Basil
Get our recipe for eggplant with garlic and basil.. Cathy Erway

"To me, the flavor of eggplant, especially when slow cooked with other deep flavors, like garlic, is a bass note. You need something deep to go along with it, but also something with some high notes to balance things out. A dark, aromatic, hoppy beer, like Tree Hophead Black IPA can work quite nicely. The deep, roasted malt flavors match up with the dark flavors of the eggplant and the soy and garlic in the sauce, the complex citrusy hop notes keep things interesting, and the bitterness helps cut through the overall richness of the dish." —Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)

"A Belgian Strong Golden Ale will lift up the garlic to allow the eggplant back into the picture. Effervescent carbonation can act as a palate scrubber; simultaneously allowing heavy flavors to be washed off the tongue and quenching your thirst and leaving you ready for the next bite. Russian River's Damnation is an excellent example of this style. This medium-bodied golden ale has a spicy aroma and volcanic carbonation—exactly what you want to stand up to this garlic sauce."—Ryan Gavrick (Wirtz Beverage)

"Eggplant soaks up the garlicky soy sauce and the earthy, musty malt flavor of a bière de garde, such as Ommegang Bière D'Hougoumont, would accentuate the umami flavors in the dish."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)

"Saison here is a natural pairing in my opinion, and Brooklyn's Sorachi Ace would be amazing with this dish. Let's be serious, Sorachi Ace is amazing in general. The earthy flavor from the eggplant and garlic will play with the natural earthy quality of this beer. The ginger, onion, and garlic that often appear in this dish are beautiful with the bright, dry quality of the beer."—Corey Esoldi (Societe Brewing)

General Tso's Chicken

Get it delivered, or make General Tso's at home. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

"With something crispy, saucy, and spicy like General Tso's Chicken, a tripel, like La Fin du Monde, is a great pairing. The beer's peppery spiciness pairs nicely with the heat from the chili peppers in the dish, and the fruitiness and carbonation balance out the sticky sauce.—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)

"The sauce on the crispy chicken is sweet, tangy, and savory while producing quite a spicy kick. I would reach for a bottle of the original Belgian dubbel brewed by the monks at Westmalle Abbey. The beer has dark malt that can cool spicy heat while grabbing onto the savoriness and matching the touch of sweetness."—Bill Carl (Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii)

"Stone IPA all the way. The bitterness will kick the chili sauce into overdrive while the herbaceous hoppiness will perk up the green onions and garlic. The crisp dry finish of the beer will help wash down the oily fried chicken."—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)

"For this dish I would choose a crisp, clean, slightly more carbonated beer such as a Belgian strong golden ale like Duvel. Duvel's slight bitterness and mild fruit character plays nicely with the spicy quality of the dish, and the fizzy carbonation lifts some of the fat from the fried chicken."—Corey Esoldi (Societe Brewing)

"For an Americanized version of General Tso's Chicken I like beers with a more pronounced bitterness. English IPAs have the firm bitterness to cut through the fat and sweetness of the dish while still having the added value of a toasty malt backbone soothing some the capsaicin heat.—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)

Peking Duck

Kenji's method for homemade Peking duck. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

"Eating Peking duck at home, from delivery or take away, I like a weizenbock, like Schneider Aventinus. Its plummy and dark bread flavors are great with duck, its caramelized notes match up with the crispy skin, and its dark, dried fruitiness matches up with things like the hoisin sauce and mellows things like hot Chinese mustard."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)

"Fuller's London Pride would work wonderfully with this dish. The marmalade sweetness of the malts and the slight citrusy note from the hops would work like a well-balanced orange sauce. The beer is not too heavy but will stand up to the richness of the duck meat."—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)

"Belgian dubbels have a pronounced dried plum and dark fruit flavors that work just like plum sauce, while standing up to the richness of the duck. A great beer with this meal would be Ovila Abbey Dubbel by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.""— Aaron Shebah (Nevada Beverage Company)

"Belgian Dubbels are really versatile when it comes to richer foods like duck. The fatty nature of the duck needs a little bit more carbonation which Lost & Found, a Belgian abbey-style dubbel from Lost Abbey, achieves well. The crispy skin pairs nicely with the raisin and caramel flavors of this beer. "—Corey Esoldi (Societe Brewing)

"Peking duck and American amber ales are one of my favorite pairings: the toasty caramel character of the beer brings out a lot of the caramel characteristics created during the duck's roasting process. The bitterness of the beer helps cut through the richness and some the fruity hop character of American Amber is accentuated by the plum sauce that's served on the side."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)

"Nothing beats heading to Chinatown to see those deliciously crispy-skinned creatures hanging in the window. The minute that I get home with my duck I am ready to crack open a Flemish Red such as Ichtegem's Grand Cru. The beer has a delicious sweet-tart finish with flavors of tart cherry and plum so that you can forgo any sauce and let the beer work its magic. Flemish Reds are aged in French oak barrels and when the flavors of wood match up with the caramelized crispy skin it is just so good."—Bill Carl (Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii)

Many Dishes, Just One Beer

Dim Sum Table
If you're only going to open one type of beer for an array of Chinese dishes, what should you pick?. Robyn Lee

"The cuisine is full of bold, varied flavors and rich dishes, and it's often served family-style so you end up with a plate overflowing with lo mein, broccoli beef, and cashew chicken all competing for your palate's attention. Instead of matching a brew to each dish, I prefer to find a beer that works for the meal as a whole. Since much of the take-out style Chinese food that I'm eating can be a bit greasy, I like a hoppy and effervescent beer that will cut through that richness. More often than not I reach for a hoppy pilsner like Victory's Prima Pils or Firestone Walker's Pivo Pils, though I'll occasionally opt for a slightly sweeter Helles lager instead. My other silver-bullet for a buffet of Chinese dishes is a bold black IPA where roasty malt flavors can match to meaty, salty dishes."—John Verive (Beer of Tomorrow)

"An English ESB may be the most versatile beer with a Chinese meal. The earthy and spicy hop bitterness and carbonation are moderate, but enough to cut through any heavy sauces or rich meats. The fruity malt base complements any dishes with a soy sauce base and can balance any spicy dishes. My favorite is Yard's ESA, but Fuller's ESB is a great example of the style and is more readily available."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)

"I believe Japanese rice lagers are the best match for the overall range of Chinese food dishes. Chinese dishes tend to be relatively rich and salty, from the abundant use of soy sauce and the frying and grilling of a wide variety of meats. Rice lagers will cut the oiliness and pair nicely with the heavy use of rice and noodles."— Aaron Shebah (Nevada Beverage Company)