Food Pairing Challenge Results

Performing research for this article made me ill, and not in the good way rappers talk about. I hope this demonstrates my commitment to my readers. Sure, I probably didn’t need to eat and drink all this junk on the same night — but I’m choosing to file this under “dedicated” instead of “idiot.”

I selected three foods from the comments in this article (mainly based on availability; I’m still clueless about where to find haggis in Tucson) and paired those foods with various beers. Some pairings went surprisingly well. Others did not. Luckily, my coworkers rarely comment on this blog; when I told them about the challenge, their first suggestions included sardines and rocky mountain oysters.

Chips and Salsa: My wife recently bought two tubs of fruit salsa from a farmer’s market, so I used that. It was sweet (as you can imagine) but also had the spicy saltiness for which salsas are known. To convey it from container to mouth, I used standard white corn tortilla chips.

My first pick was a pilsner. It seemed like a good place to start, considering there’s a brewery so deeply in love with the combination that it made a chips-and-salsa-flavored lager. But thinking about such things is aggravating my nausea, so let’s discuss the lagers I used — a German pilsner from Warsteiner and a leftover can of Simpler Times. Each went well with the food. These beers are light on the palate but crisp and sweet enough to hose down the salsa’s heat. I think an amber or cream ale would work in the same way, but I didn’t have any available for testing.

Next, a hefeweizen. Like the Warsteiner pils, this is a German style with crisp, sweet flavors, so I thought it might have a similar effect. I was correct. The fruity, spicy ale complemented those same flavors in the salsa, while the cold, carbonated bite cleansed the palate. I preferred the hefe to the pale lager with this particular salsa; however, with so many different kinds of salsa out there, I have to recommend the lager for its versatility.

Pad Thai: This dish is often served spicy, but the one I ordered wasn’t. It was sweet and slightly tangy and came with beef and veggies in peanut sauce.

First, I tried out two wheat beers: Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche, a Berliner weisse brewed with peaches, and Hoegaarden, a witbier. Festina Peche was fantastic; its tart crispness sliced right through the nutty flavors, providing a tasty contrast. The Hoegaarden was good too, which is interesting because I don’t love Hoegaarden. But it went well with the sweet thai spices in the dish.

Next, mostly out of curiosity, I tried Anchor Porter. I thought its chocolate flavors might pair well with the peanut sauce, since some beers, such as Meantime’s Coffee Porter, actually benefit from peanut flavors. This combination, however, made the porter taste like old, burnt coffee. The spices in the thai dish wrench out the beer’s astringency, accenting the bitterness and masking its smoky sweetness. I’d go with one of the crisp wheat ales instead.

Cotton Candy: Oh boy! Time to pair beer, my favorite beverage, with a sack of wigs spun from sugar. Most of us know that cotton candy is light and wispy and tastes like bubblegum. But even I had no idea how this would turn out.

First, I try Anchor Porter because I had some left. OK, I had almost my entire glass left. Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), the porter doesn’t go well with this, either. That said, it somehow pairs better with this than it did with the pad thai. Actually, taking a mouthful of porter and then placing some cotton candy on your tongue to dissolve in the liquid ain’t half bad. It cuts the bitter bite of the porter and transforms it into something purely sweet.

Next, a different approach: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. The bitter, floral hops, which I thought might break through the overbearing sweetness, paired oddly with the cotton candy. Not horrible, but not pleasant either.

I moved on quickly to the Lindemans Kriek. If you’re a sugar junkie, this is the route for you. So much sweetness — but somehow, the dark cherries in the kriek go well with the cotton candy’s sugary, uh … sugar flavors. Try reversing the porter technique: put a piece of cotton candy in your mouth and, as it starts to dissolve, take a sip of kriek. Sugar rush.

So I suppose the Lindemans won. But I finished the beer, and I still have more cotton candy than I could ever need or want (and I only bought one small bag), which makes me wonder about the validity of these experiments. The point of pairing food with beer is to enhance the flavors in each and, either through complement or contrast, to transcend what each alone has to offer. This final concoction, however, merely tops my list of Least Torturous Ways to Torture Yourself. And that “honor” was revoked the moment my stomach started groaning like a pissed off orca. My advice? Drink a kriek by itself and call yourself the winner.

9 Responses to “Food Pairing Challenge Results”
  1. Fil says:

    I wanted to say something witty here but I can’t stop laughing long enough to think of anything. Priceless.
    Tell you what, when I win the lottery I’ll treat us all to some genuine Scottish haggis and a pint o’ malty Scottish ale. . in Scotland . .

  2. James W. says:

    Another humorous and informative post. Was it the sugar high that upset the stomach or just the random concoction of beer and food?

    Also, was this all done in one night drinking a full 12 oz. of each brew?

    • Scott says:

      Thanks! I think it was the mishmash of different liquids and solids in my stomach. And yep, I was drinking full bottles, but the wife helped, so it’s not as much as it sounds.

  3. Kris says:

    This is a classic! Who would have thought that all those foods and beer would upset you – go figure….
    When your FIL wins the lottery, your wife and I had better be in the trip (we’ll skip the haggis thank you).

  4. Tom says:

    I’m honored to see that you considered my suggestion—and you got a great picture for the article out of it too!

    • Scott says:

      Of course! I’ve long respected your opinion. Plus, it seemed like a choice that would make for good readin’ … and I’ll pass along your photo compliments to the wife.

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