Historically, we hadn't spent a ton of time thinking about the best possible drink to pair with our favorite soup noodles. Often, the choices are cheap beer...or other cheap beer.
But if you find yourself in the lucky position of having a menu full of choices, or you're gearing up for making the ultimate ramen meal at home, the options can be daunting. Ramen can be tricky to pair: there's the stock and noodles to consider, but also the flavors of the pork on top and other toppings including eggs, preserved vegetables, spices, and maybe even chili oil. We turned to a few pros for their recommendations. Here are their picks for the best beers, wines, sakes, and other drinks to try with each style of ramen.
"Shio broth is very direct, and I prefer a lighter beer style here. I think pilsner can work well, but Belgian-style wheat beers work even better. They are light and slightly acidic, with a lilt of coriander and orange peel. Their low bitterness and slight sweetness offsets the salty shio broth nicely."—Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at The Brooklyn Brewery
"Shio ramen celebrates saline, umami flavors in a manner that is light and nuanced. Scallops, corn, mirin, spinach, and soft-boiled eggs are flavors that beg for something bright and mineral to match. We love the Domaine de l'Ecu Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine 'Orthogneiss' 2010—it's crisp, focused, mineral, and it tastes like the ocean."—Jordan Salcito, beverage director at Momofuku
"Sake is a great choice here because you want something that has a similar delicate earthiness, and I think the texture and lower acidity of sake would work really well. I would choose a junmai sake with a nutty flavor profile, like Yukikage's Tokubetsu Junmai from Niigata, which has a nutty, slightly cheesy nose and a full, richly textured mouthfeel. (Disclosure: it's imported by my current employer.)"—Monica Samuels, Sake Ambassador, Southern Wine & Spirits of New York
"Pair Shio ramen with the smallest/dryest of dark beers. Simply looking for the classic salt-on-chocolate savor in a beer that will not over-power this most delicate of ramen broths. Look for dry or oyster stout with an ABV below 5% or even a German Schwarzbier."—Sayre Piotrkowski, The Hog's Apothecary
"Simple ramen goes with simple wine—a light bodied Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio. Seek out the 2011 Pinot Gris 'Rosenberg' from Albert Mann in Alsace."—Ian Lee, Sommelier at 15 East
"Old ales, which are strong beers with plenty of caramelized flavor tend to work well here. When these beers are properly aged, they can develop sherry-like flavors and some nutty umami flavors that make a nice pairing for shoyu."—Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at The Brooklyn Brewery
"With shoyu ramen, I'd pair our Szigeti sparkling Gruner-Veltliner that we're currently pouring (out of magnum) at Noodle Bar. The wine is dry, refreshing, and extremely versatile. Gruner's natural herbaceous notes work particularly well with the nori, scallions, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts—and in case your version is spicy, the Szigeti's bubbles have a mild cooling effect."—Jordan Salcito, beverage director at Momofuku
"I'd definitely avoid any sakes that are fruity or sweet—sometimes a sweet sake paired with a shoyu-rich dish can result in an unpleasant metallic quality. A karakuchi (very dry) sake would be a nice choice—Oze no Yukidoke makes a great 'ohkarakuchi' junmai which is peppery and dry and would make a nice complement to the broth."—Monica Samuels, Sake Ambassador, Southern Wine & Spirits of New York
"The soy sauce lends itself to dark sour beer so here is where we'd play with a Dark Stock Ale, a rich, higher ABV beer brewed to age that would often start to sour and oxidize with time. I recently had a chance to try a bowl of shoyu ramen with an aged dark lager that had been blended with a sour mash wheat beer, it was a religious experience."—Sayre Piotrkowski, The Hog's Apothecary
"The acidity and balance of medium-dry styles of Chenin Blanc can pair well with the soy in shoyu ramen. With soft tannins, crispy acidity and vibrant fruit profile, try the 2012 Old Vine Chenin Blanc from Ken Forrester in Stellenbosch region of South Africa. Sufficient fruit is necessary to stand up to the shoyu flavor."—Ian Lee, Sommelier at 15 East
"For Miso ramen I think I'd suggest a Gose. This is a traditional lactic sour wheat beer style from the town of Liepzig in germany. Traditional Goses employ both salt and coriander to complement a sort of Greek yogurt sour character. Miso broth strikes me as richer than Shoyo or Shio so the heightened acidity of a dry tart beer is warranted as a foil. Today, more contemporary craft takes on the Gose style are popping up all over the planet. These often employ more exotic spicing, and carefully selected sea salts. Get some sea salt rocking with the seaweed in a miso ramen and I think we have a winner. There is also a cousin to the Gose style called Grodziskie or Grätzer that is often quite smoky, and now that I think about it, that might be even more fun."—Sayre Piotrkowski, The Hog's Apothecary
"Slyboro Hidden Star semi-dry cider from Granville, NY—this cider will offset and round out some of the saltiness from the miso without getting overpowered by it. The apple notes and the hint of residual sugar will add balance to the dish."—Jordan Salcito, beverage director at Momofuku
"I would choose a sake with lots of umami and sweet/savory qualities to go with miso ramen. A rich yamahai sake would be a great choice—I like Tengumai's Yamahai Junmai from Ishikawa, which is bold and funky with lots of mushroomy characteristics."—Monica Samuels, Sake Ambassador, Southern Wine & Spirits of New York
"Unoaked California Chardonnay brings a mellow stone-fruit offset to the simple miso-based ramen. Try the 2011 Chardonnay (Unoaked) from Joel Gott in California."—Ian Lee, Sommelier at 15 East
"I prefer the "charred miso" style, which is often served spicy. Porters are great for these, and the roasted flavors of this beer really pick on the miso flavors, especially the charred version."—Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at The Brooklyn Brewery
"Tonkotsu has the shoulders to hold up against a fuller bodied porter or stout. Same principle of calcium and salt on chocolate but both the contents of the bowl and the glass are now more robust. Many of the table and mineral salts one encounters in a bone-based ramen stock have a long history of perfectly complementing the chocolate malt flavors of darker beer."—Sayre Piotrkowski, The Hog's Apothecary
"We love the Leitz Riesling Spätlese "Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreutz" 2011 (out of magnum) for Tonkotsu. Its off-dry notes are a delicious foil for the heat produced by the ginger and garlic, and the pork's naturally sweet flavors are perfect with Spatlese riesling."—Jordan Salcito, beverage director at Momofuku
"For Tonkotsu ramen, I prefer beers broadly within the Belgian dubbel style. These beers are very dry, but have flavors of dark fruit, raisins and caramel. These flavors play well with the rich, nutty Tonkotsu broth."—Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at The Brooklyn Brewery
"Bodegas Robles Fino Montilla NV. It's organic Montilla (3 hours inland from Jerez, made in the same style as Fino Sherry, but with PX instead of Palomino) that plays to the savory magic of ramen. If you can get a bottle and bother bringing it with you to a ramen spot, you will be rewarded."—Collin Casey, sommelier at Namu Gaji
"For Tonkotsu, I would go with a non-fruity honjozo sake. The added alcohol will help cut through the richness of the broth, and a sake with some mushroomy aromas would work nicely with the porky flavors. I like Eiko Fuji 'Honkarakuchi' from Yamagata, which has a touch of rice sweetness on the palate but a sharp finish that will stand up well to the intensity of the broth."—Monica Samuels, Sake Ambassador, Southern Wine & Spirits of New York
"Tonkotsu ramen has a thick broth that's full of flavor, so a bright and simple red wine is my best bet. An Australian or Chilean Shiraz is my personal favorite—try the 2008 Shiraz Three Rings from the Barossa Valley in Australia—but Chianti is also good choice."—Ian Lee, Sommelier at 15 East
What do you like to drink with ramen?