Beer for Breakfast

The idea of beer before noon might make you shudder: the bitterness, the carbonation, the soporific qualities of alcohol. And yet you've probably sipped plenty of Mimosas in your life, a disgusting beverage if ever there was one. Who decided that (typically) bad champagne mixed with sticky, sweet orange juice would be a good recipe for anything other than a wicked hangover?

For hundreds of years prior to the early 1800s, the English drank beer for breakfast. In fact, beer was known as the breakfast drink. That was because plain water was usually contaminated, and coffee, tea, and hot cocoa were not widely available. And beer delivered carbs you needed to get through the day.

So we stake our claim: For any morning drinking, from breakfast to brunch, beer should be your choice. Its flavors, which range from malty to tangy, are a more subtle and dynamic complement to eggs, pancakes, and bacon. You just have to know what to pair with what. Beers served at breakfast should be low in alcohol (in our opinion) so you don't actually get drunk before the day has really started. For that reason, all the beers we paired with our breakfast foods are around 5 percent alcohol (that's why the style known as breakfast stout isn't here: It's usually too high in alcohol).

For a Spicy Breakfast
We paired with our Harissa-Pancetta Breakfast Pizza

The intense spiciness of the harissa (a North African chile paste) in this breakfast pizza required a strong-flavored beer. Berliner Style Weisse from Bayerischer Bahnhof Brau & Gaststättenbetrieb, a puckery, lemon-tasting beer in a style originating in Berlin, was a nice foil to the heat in this dish, but it did not work with any of the other breakfast foods. Another Berliner Weisse–style beer that we did not taste this time, Dogfish Head Festina Pêche, would probably also do well. Thiriez Extra, a hoppy golden ale from France, had an earthy, slightly smoky taste that went nicely with the pancetta and stood up to the harissa, although one taster thought the hops were too strong: "Too skunky. Weed with pizza." Weihenstephaner Original, a Bavarian lager, was also a solid pairing, with enough of a hop backbone to not be a pushover. You could try these same beers with other spicy breakfast dishes, like those featuring hot sauce, salsa, or green chile.

For an Eggy Breakfast
We paired with our Egg and Smoked Salmon Open-Faced Breakfast Sandwich

The fishiness of the salmon made this pairing a challenge. However, when we began trying the sandwich with the wheat beers in our lineup, it all came together. Wheat beers are often matched up with citrus flavors, where their sweet, spicy crispness mimics that of lemon or orange. In our recipe, the crème fraîche contains lemon zest, which made the sandwich taste good with Pinkus Organic Hefe-Weizen and Kapuziner Bavarian Hefe-Weizen. If you have a favorite wheat beer, it would probably pair well with this dish, or with another savory-citrus dish like Eggs Benedict (which typically contains lemon in the hollandaise sauce). Additionally, a Kölsch-style beer in our lineup, Kent Lake Kölsch, was a fine pairing, probably because though it isn't a wheat beer, it has a wheaty flavor.

For a Meat-and-Potatoes Breakfast
We paired with our Chorizo and Potato Breakfast Tacos

This classic taco dish cried out for beers that are light in body and unobtrusive in flavor: lawn-mower summer beers. In our lineup, the clear winner was Twilight Summer Ale from Deschutes, which was crisp and refreshing but had enough flavor to keep it interesting (one taster noted a "nutty, almondlike finish"). A good Mexican beer, such as Bohemia, would have been another nice pairing for the tacos, as would other not-too-hoppy-or-fruity seasonal summer beers. The Weihenstephaner Original worked here, too, because it's well balanced with a great overall-refreshing profile. And Mahr's kellerbier, a malty lager from the esteemed brewery in Bamberg, Germany (wonderful if you can find it), was another friendly, not too spicy partner.

For a Starchy, Sweet Breakfast
We paired with our Basic Pancakes

Any really hoppy or yeasty beer tasted nasty with the mild, sweet breadiness of pancakes. The most dynamite pairing with this dish was the delicious Fraoch Heather Ale from Williams Bros Brewing Co. in Scotland. Heather ale is an ancient style of beer in which heather takes the place of hops as the herbal preservative. The effect is a far less bitter beer with a subtly sweet, herbaceous flavor. Also good was the Mahr's kellerbier: Its caramelly maltiness mimicked the cereal-grain taste of the pancake batter. Although some of the tasters found Midnight Sun Brewing Co.'s Arctic Rhino Coffee Porter a bit overwhelming, others liked it: "Tastes like drinking your morning coffee with pancakes, only it's beer." Other not-specifically-coffee beers that are made with dark-roast malts (Einbecker Schwarzbier, Guinness) often contain coffee notes, and would probably work well with pancakes or sweet breakfast pastries.