Reading Time: 4 minutes read
“Good people drink good beer.” – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
You may have noticed that The Hoppy Half-Pint and the Depraved Artist sometimes tackle the same subject, albeit from slightly different angles. For instance, we both did articles on BCTC 2015, which you can compare here, and here. This week’s post is a similar case, but with a higher level of collaboration.
Beer and food pairings are backwards
Magazine articles and Internet lists abound on how to pair beer with food. Like their wine counterparts, most of these focus on finding the right brew to enhance the food. This is an upside-down approach. Food is fantastic; despite years of denial, I seem to be a foodie myself, and I’ve been dabbling in the culinary arts since I was a kid. To me, beer and brewing are an avenue for that, rather than a completely different subject. Food is no slouch. But, as the Depraved Artist points out, “some…meals take a few days to cook…But some beers take years to make.”
Sure, yeah, hoppy beers go well with spicy foods, But what do those spicy foods, such as Korean bibimbap, or Cajun gumbo, do to the delicate flavors and aromas of the hops? And how about smoky or grilled foods with rauchbier? Perfectly complementary, or does the food take the oomph right out of a beer that the brewers worked hard to get delicate smoke flavors into? These are the sort of questions we’re exploring.
This serves as the first post in what will probably be an ongoing series about pairing, “food with beer;” the idea is to “make the beer taste better by using the food as a backdrop.” The Depraved Artist is on a quest “to find the one food; The one food to rule them all. One food that is the perfect backdrop for every beer.” And I’ve been invited along on the journey, which means you have, too. So does that perfect food for every beer exist? That’s the mystery, isn’t it?
No one ever talks about pairing this stuff with beer, though corned beef and cabbage are a perennial favorite for Saint Patrick’s Day. Nonetheless, it “has the twin whammies of glutamic acid (known as umami, and the main thingy in MSG that makes stuff taste yummy) and saltiness; this should, in theory, make for a one-two punch of super awesome taste bud flavor orgy in my mouth.”
Working from the hypothesis that, “it would be awesome with a breakfast stout, pretty good with an IPA, but possibly fall apart when paired with a sour,” and would almost certainly ruin something with delicate ester and phenolic notes, we rounded up:
Sunday Morning Stout, from Weyerbacher
Maiden the Shade
This ordinarily delicious, hoppy brew makes the hash taste bitter, and the hash’s saltiness increases the perception of sweetness in the beer. Heightened sweetness is not what I’m looking for in an IPA. As we suspected, corned beef hash utterly fails to enhance a hoppy beer.
Sunday Morning Stout
This doesn’t scrape the fatty residue off my tongue the way Maiden the Shade does. Perhaps because of that, the hash mellows out the Imperial stout, making it seem sweeter and thicker. The saltiness has no effect on the roasty bitterness from the coffee, but it does take some of the booziness away, leaving intact the complex flavors of this, my favorite coffee stout.
This was actually my first time trying the Rodenbach, and I made sure to take a sip before the corned beef hash could ruin it. My experience of Flanders Red ales is certainly incomplete, but Rodenbach is perhaps the mildest example I’ve sampled so far. Maybe that’s why it’s so popular. To my surprise, the hash made no difference to the Flanders Red at all. As the Men’s Journal notes in The In-Depth Guide to Pairing Food and Beer, “Sour Beers Like Fatty Foods.” I suspect this is because they’re meant to stand up to greasy Belgian pub foods.
Sadly, we were correct in our guess that corned beef hash would not be a good pairing for Weissbier. It made the beer taste flat and sweet, masking most of the wheat malt complexity, the peppery notes, and all of the hop character. What’s left is a sweet, malty thing with only a hint of cloves, and maybe too much banana-ness. Some might like that, but for me, the corned beef hash ruined an otherwise very good beer.
While Sunday Morning Stout and corned beef hash get along like a greasy breakfast food and an outstanding coffee stout, hash “is not the food I’m looking for.” The search continues for the perfect food to pair with beer(s).
Photos by Benjamin Wilson