“Does It Pair?” is a new series in which we try to find commonality and winning combinations in great craft beer and off-kilter, uncommon everyman cuisine.
Basically, I take a beer that I love and some random unhealthy shit from my pantry and see if they go well together.
Of course, I could always pair beer with food that is obviously complementary, but that’s boring, uninspired, and just plain lazy. The best food combinations are unexpected, bizarre, and random. Think about it: meatballs and jelly (try it), French bread pizza and ranch dressing, lamb and tuna fish.
And you don’t even have to spend exorbitant amounts of money to experience it. All you need are your favorite beers, a random selection of whatever’s in your pantry/fridge/secret candy stash, and an unbridled sense of adventure.
So what’s on tap for this inaugural edition?
The Alchemist Brewing, VT
The legendary canned double IPA that gives beer geeks across the nation a raging semi, Heady Topper is one of the few beers that arguably lives up to its monumental hype. If you’re a fan of IPAs that sway more toward the tropical citrus end of the spectrum, this deliciously juicy ale from Vermont is your Holy Grail.
The nose is pure pineapple juice and molten white gummy bears. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were about to eat a can of Dole pineapple chunks, or chug a can of Kerns nectar. It’s equally tropical-heavy on the palate as well, with a full-bodied, creamy mouthfeel reminiscent of pureed cherimoya. Citrus is the superstar here, with the slight sweetness and bitterness reminiscent of a ruby red grapefruit. The bitterness intensifies a tad on the back-end, but it’s not unpleasant—think citrus peel or cucumber rind. A light tartness finishes out the beer, similar to lingering flavors of sweet fruits like red apples and bananas.
All in all, a world-class double IPA that drinks amazingly well, despite the 8% alcohol by volume. It’s proof that you don’t need to add grapefruit to an IPA to make it taste like an alcoholic Jamba Juice.
This yellow, medium-sized fruit is, well, just a banana. There isn’t much special about it; on a ripeness scale of “greener than a Portland hippie” to “mushy banana bread fodder,” this is a rare perfect banana for optimal handheld consumption. Not too hard and not too soft, this elongated fruit reeks of starchy sweetness with a hint of vanilla. There’s a great smooth texture upon first bite—soft, sweet, and slightly tart without any of the mealy, grainy texture of an over-ripe banana. It’s all capped by a lingering finish and taste that leads to the oft-maligned “banana mouth.”
A tropical-forward beer like Heady should pair well with a tropical fruit such as a banana, right? Well, it depends on what you mean by “pair well.”
While a sip of Heady Topper amplifies the sweetness of the banana to custard-esque levels, the banana, in turn, transforms the hoppy DIPA into a new beer entirely.
The super-sweet, perfectly ripe banana cuts through most of the tropical notes of the Heady Topper and overpowers them completely. However, what shines through as a result isn’t the bitterness, but rather the tartness. The bitterness is downplayed while the tartness is catapulted right to the front.
As a result, the pineapple notes give way to a beer that is dominated by pure grapefruit. The best analog would be a less tart Anderson Valley Brewing Company Blood Orange Gose, or a drier (i.e. less sweet) Stiegl Radler.
So, does it pair? I would say overwhelmingly yes. The banana brings out flavors in the Heady Topper that you may have otherwise missed, and the Heady Topper enhances the already-delicious banana. If you’re not a fan of alcoholic grapefruit juice, then this pairing probably isn’t for you,but it’s still definitely worth a try, perhaps with other fruits as well.