March 23, 2012
The Great American BBQ Festival will be taking place this Saturday in Downtown Chandler. Not only will there be plenty of barbecue to go around, but Mr. Pineapple will be making his debut for the spring season, and his first appearance since taking a silver medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. Working in a brewery, I like to think I know a few things about beer. But being a Texan by birth, I certainly know barbecue. It seems like a great occasion to put our beer and food pairing skills to the test with the top 5 beers to pair with barbecue (besides Mr. Pineapple, and any other SanTan Brew of course).
Quick note: I’ve noticed that some people, especially Yankees, tend to throw the term “barbecue” around pretty loosely, using it to refer to what is actually grilling or cooking-out (i.e., throwing some hamburgers and hot dogs on a grill). Whether it is hog or steer, ribs or brisket, barbecue refers to meat which is slow-cooked through an indirect-heating method in some sort of smoker. Smoking is an essential step in barbecuing, and it is this characteristic flavor which informs these pairings.
5. Polestar Pilsner, Left Hand Brewing, Longmont, CO.
Traditional Southern pulled pork has a wonderful rich, fattiness that just needs two slices of bread and a few pickles to make into a meal. Especially on a hot day, you want your beer to balance that richness. A traditional German-style Pilsner, like this one from Left Hand, should do just that. Bitter enough to be refreshing and provide a contrast with the meat, crisp enough to lighten the palate, but not so overwhelming that it gets in the way of the meat.
4. Saison Dupont, Brasserie Dupont, Tourpes, Belgium
Like Pilsners, Saisons are light in body and very dry — perfectly balanced with rich barbecue. Typical Saison yeast, like that used in Saison Dupont, produces a uniquely tart (think lemons and lemon zest) with a strong black pepper note. Traditional Texas Brisket is often dry-rubbed with only salt and black pepper. The peppery crust which forms on the edge of the brisket could complement the spiciness in the beer while the zestiness refreshes.
3. Pale 31, Firestone Walker Brewing, Paso Robles, CA
One of my favorite examples of an American Pale Ale (besides SanTan’s Devil’s Ale, of course), it will be a little fuller in body and more bitter than the previous two beers. However, that doesn’t mean it cannot go well with barbecue. Hoppier beers tend to balance well with spicy foods, so maybe consider a pale ale when you are encountering a spicy barbecue sauce.
Few breweries in the U.S. make a traditional German Dunkel (Dunkel means “dark” in German), but many do make Oktoberfest beers in the fall, including SanTan. Oktoberfest is lighter in color and flavor, but related to a Dunkel. These beers are much sweeter and fuller than the other three beers mentioned above; special malts and brewing techniques are used to extract a complex, rich caramel flavor from the grain being used. This flavor can work excellently with a smoked sausage on a fall day.
1. Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, Schlenklerla Brewery, Bamberg, Germany
Although smoked beers have become more widespread, most non-beer geeks are unaware of them altogether. Prior to modern kilning practices, all malted grain in brewing was dried using a fire, which necessarily gave the beer a smoky flavor. Once able, many maltsters and brewers preferred the new, non-smoked malt. The German brewery Schlenkerla continues making smoked beers today, and has been the source of inspiration for some United States craft breweries to make their own smoked beers (most notably, Alaskan Brewing makes a Smoked Porter where the malt is smoked in a manner similiar to that of smoking salmon). Schlenkerla makes the same traditional German lagers mentioned above, but with a distinct smoke flavor to round it out. It almost seems too obvious a pairing — rich, caramel sweetness with smoky flavor. If some beer is liquid bread, this is liquid barbecue.