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Life of Spice: Hot Food Cold Beer
When tackling some especially spicy cuisine, what drink do you reach for?
Sharing the table with spicy food can be difficult for wine. The heat makes high-alcohol wines hotter and oak-aged whites more oakey, so drinking them alongside fiery cuisine imbalances them. Tannins in many reds clash with spices unpleasantly. And subtle, old, elegant or particularly complex wines can be wasted on a palate slightly numbed by spice, so they’re probably out as well.
Heat may also make us wish to drink quickly, and wines that are 12-14% ABV are not ideal for gulping down.
Beer is an easier match. Just as malt quells the bitter storm of hops, it soothes the flame of hot food. So sturdy beers like brown ales, stouts and porters, and even hoppy brews with some measure of balance work well with spicy foods, especially when one of your main goals is to calm your tongue.
But hops do not clash with spices either. The only fear is that with extremely hot food, a very hop forward beer will fan the flames to unwanted levels. Normally, spice makes hops snappier and more frisky. The Crisp is a great example. It’s a longtime favorite of ours beside cuisines that tend hot. Solid biscuity malt soothes your mouth, and spice coalesces with noble hops to crack like a whip. A manageable ABV (5.4%) also makes it no problem to drink a couple tall glasses with a meal. Spritzy carbonation clears the palate after oil based dishes, allowing each bite to be tasted anew.
We have worked with restaurants like Philly-based Han Dynasty, which specialize in Szechuan cuisine, to provide a beer that works well with the rich and super spicy (and crazy delicious) food. The Crisp has been a frequent choice, for the reasons mentioned above, as well as Sweet Action, for its balance and subdued yet present hop presence.
In the newly opened Han Dynasty NYC venue, we have our smooth, creamy oatmeal stout on nitro-draft. The sweetness and high protein levels from generous amounts of oats make Otis especially good at cooling down spicy food. Its full flavor also matches the richness of Szechuan cuisine.
Whatever your choice, spicy cuisine is elevated by a great beer beside it.