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Here, Taste This…

Next time you pull a bunch of steaks, chops, or sausages off the grill, try reaching for a more malt-forward beer instead of going the super-hoppy route.


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Photo by Bruce Glassman

It had almost become a reflex: when I thought about pairing beers with smoky or spicy grilled meats I almost invariably ruled out everything but the lighter bodied, hop-forward beers. So, when the grilled lamb & basil sausages were ready to go the other day, I decided to break with tradition. Instead of the IPA or the pale ale, the drink of choice would be a more malt-forward beer with enough bitterness and astringency to stand up to richer meats. 

I reached for Stone’s recent specialty release, HiFi + LoFi Mixtape, which is part of their Stochasticity project. The beer is a tribute to the British publican tradition of blending older “stock ales” with fresh ales to create a unique layering of flavors. The older ales are usually aged in oak for some period of time before being blended with new, fresh ale of the same variety. The new ale smoothes out the rough edges of the aged beer and provides the brewer an ability to blend to a desired flavor profile and alcohol level.

Because this beer follows an English style, the hop profile is more subdued, (allowing the malts to shine through), but it finishes with enough bitterness to make it a highly food-friendly beer. (Let me tell you, this beer became fast friends with the lamb & basil sausage!) The first bite of sausage and sip of beer revealed a great affinity between the spicy, herby, gamey sausage and the oaky, toasty, slightly fruity beer. So how to make this pairing even better? I dolloped on a few spoonfuls of smoked tomato relish and…voila. The smokiness of the relish added just the right kick and really brought out the oaky (slightly sherry) notes in the beer.

If you’re looking to heighten the richness and umami effect of grilled meats (including chicken or pork) then pairing with malt-forward beers is a great way to go. You don’t have to pair with barrel-aged beers, but look for malt-centric brews that have a nice hop balance (reds are usually a good place to start). The beer should have enough hops so it finishes with a pleasing bitterness and astringency, which will help to cleanse your palate as you eat and will prepare your mouth for the next delicious bite.

Some of my favorite food-friendly reds: Sacrifice Red IPA (Aztec), Mermaid’s Red (Coronado), Hop Head Red (Green Flash), Blazing World (Modern Times), Dragoon Red (New English), Rustic Horizon Red (Twisted Manzanita).

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