Although many people find it strange to pair anything other than a traditional lager/pilsner with a curry, there are many different options available to the more adventurous. Just remember: making the wrong choice won’t lead to disaster! (They lead to a subpar pairing, which is just as bad.) If you get the pairing wrong, just set the beer aside for later and try a different one. And make a note of it for next time!
Hot spicy curry (tomato base)
Examples: dopiaza, vindaloo, biryani, some Thai curries.
These types of curry have a lot of different and fiery flavours going on, usually featuring a lot of chili peppers. Chili means capsaicin, which is an oily molecule, so fairly much any beer will have the carbonation to scrub the capsaicin from your tongue, but with so much going on in here, you need an assertively muscular partner such as India Pale Ales (IPA) and regular Pale Ales.
These beers have bright, crackly hop bitterness, carbonation, and sweet malt going for them allowing them to complement the spices (hops) and provide a pleasing sweet after-taste to contrast the rest of the dish. The other curry ingredients can add bright acidity (tomatoes, vinegar) or earthiness (lentils, mushrooms) or richness (red meat), so experiment with the different beers to see which combinations you like most. Try pairing these curries with Good People IPA or Snake Handler double IPA, Back40 Freckle Belly IPA, Straight to Ale Monkeynaut, or Beer Engineers’ muscular Velocity Imperial Ale.
You can also consider the more distinctive American Wild Ales such as Jolly Pumpkin which provide a sour or tart component to offset the richness. If you go for a Belgian Lambic or Geuze, please let me know how it works out for you 🙂
Rich creamy curry
Examples: Thai curry with coconut milk, korma, tikka masala, pasanda.
These curries are highly fragrant, and rich with cream or coconut milk. A more delicate touch is required lest the beer turn harsh or completely overwhelm the more subtle flavours of the curry. For these, I’d suggest Belgian-style beers which provide a richness along with aggressive carbonation to clean those heavy flavours off your tongue.
Excellent local offerings right now include Avondale Miss Fancy’s Tripel, Straight To Ale Brother Joseph’s Double, or Blue Pants’ unusual Hoppy Tripel.
If you have no idea what to do, or are feeling overwhelmed with choices, go to a store that allows you to make mixed 6 packs and have an experimental curry/beer night. I will close with a word of warning, though: pairing good beer and curry will radically change your experience, and you won’t be able to go back to a blah, ho-hum mass lager. You’ve been warned 🙂