Some Big Game Pairings….

Craft Beer and Food Pairings for Super Bowl Sunday

When you sit down to watch Super Bowl XLVIII, you’ll want the competition to be on the screen, not in your mouth. As the Denver Broncos throw their explosive offense against the sturdy Seattle Seahawks defense, you’ll want to choose craft beers that get along well with your game-time food.

In beer pairings, first consider balance: match strength with strength. As renowned beer expert Garrett Oliver explained in “The Brewmaster’s Table,” “We want the beer and food to engage in a lively dance, not a football tackle.” A light wheat beer balances the flavors of shrimp and vegetables, an amber with a touch of caramel sweetness balances a cheeseburger topped with ketchup and mustard and an American brown ale balances the rich taste of grilled ribs with lightly charred edges.

For a glimpse into pairing strategies, peek into the playbook of Ben Petty, certified cicerone and regional sales manager at Hardywood Park Brewery. Petty would pair the Hardywood Singel with chips and guacamole because “the light body and tropical fruit notes will complement the creamy texture and spicy notes of the guacamole and refresh the palate with its crisp, dry finish.”

The Hardywood Cream Ale he would pair with meatballs, since its “subtle hop notes will contrast with the sweet tanginess of the meatball and its light refreshing body will leave you plenty of room for more tasty meatballs.”

Head brewer at Center of the Universe Brewing and serious football fan Mike Killelea leans toward harmony in his pairings. “There are two schools of thought: You can compare or you can contrast,” Killelea explained. “If you’re doing really hot buffalo wings, you might want to go with an IPA, something that’s spicy. Or you can go in the opposite direction with a Vienna lager, or something like that.”

Petty explored the principles of comparing and contrasting in one simple pairing: buffalo wings with bleu cheese dip and an IPA. “The bright citrus of the Great Return will complement the heat of spicy wings perfectly. The light malt backbone contrasts with the heat, providing nice balance as well. The hop notes will complement the bleu cheese deliciously. The light carbonation will cleanse the palate.”

Killelea’s favorite pairings with pizza are an amber lager, a bock, a Vienna lager or a crisp pilsner: “something’s that’s not going to overpower the pizza.” With pretzels—especially a big, soft pretzel—he’d recommend a German-style weissbier or Munich helles. With nachos and salsa, he’d suggest Starr Hill’s Snow Blind doppelbock lager; with spicy wings, Alewerks Bitter Valentine; or with mild cheeses, the Hardywood Singel.

Consider the ABV of the beers, too: If the alcohol content is high and you drink till the clock runs out, you may not remember the game at the water cooler the next day. Depending upon how the game goes, you might not want to remember, but you won’t know that till the final play. Sessionable beers, typically under 5 percent ABV, can help you both enjoy and recall.

Or you could adopt Killelea’s ongoing game strategy: Drink the beer from your team’s home state and avoid the other team’s home state beer the week before. I’d recommend this strategy for Super Bowl XLVIII undecideds: Colorado breweries include Oskar Blues, New Belgium, Left Hand, Odell, Avery, Twisted Pine, and Great Divide.

Although it’s great to match your foods with the right beer, a Super Bowl party host will also want to pair the beers with the guests. For guests who aren’t yet craft beer fans, Killelea suggests having on hand some Legend Brown. “It’s easy drinking, won’t fill you up too much, yet it has plenty of flavor and pairs well.” Other suggestions are his own Center of the Universe Main St. Virginia Ale, Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager, and Hardywood Singel.

Even a perfect pairing won’t work if you don’t like the beer, so be sure to drink one that you enjoy. If the game leaves a bad taste in your mouth, at least you’ll have one pleasant memory to hold on to.

Other Richmond-area brewers have suggestions for pairing their beers with Super Bowl foods, whether you take away bottles or freshly filled growlers.

“Belgian tripels pair very well with seafood,” said Sean Pumphrey of Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery. He recommends a hot crab dip—one of his favorite football foods—served with toast points and Three Chopt Tripel. “I also love spicy food with hoppy beers (so) I would recommend 7-layer dip with jalapeños served with tortilla chips and Magic Beaver Belgian Style Pale Ale.”

Midnight Brewery owner Trae Cairns recommends Not My Job brown with meats, such as barbecue and grilled meats, Head First pale ale with spicy foods such as wings and New Beginning kolsch with chips and dips.

When I think of Strangeways, I don’t envision sports bar foods, but crepes or a charcuterie board. In his recommendations, head brewer Mike Hiller includes both. For the Albino Monkey, Hiller said, “You’d want something that matches the Monkey’s citrus and spice combination, so think guacamole, regular salsa and something like a spicy mango salsa” or pizza with pineapple and ham. “For some non-traditional Super Bowl food, grilled salmon always works brilliantly with Albino Monkey.”

For the Woodbooger Belgian-style brown, Hiller recommended pork barbecue, grilled steak or cheeseburgers. “The caramelization of seared meats pairs well with the caramel malts, coconut sugar and vanilla in Woodbooger. A cheese plate with gouda, smoked edam, a good sharp cheddar and probably Stilton would work.”

If you want to invite the Strangeways Wyrd Sisters to your Super Bowl party, Hiller suggests matching Ophelia with spicy foods and Cordelia with seafood and pizza. “Desdemona is the traditional Belgian tripel,” Hiller explained, “and her sweetness would go beautifully with pork barbecue and anything from the grill.”

Hiller recommends pairing the Phantasmic IPA with spicy: buffalo wings and chili, or blackened Cajun catfish and gumbo. With “the dryness, lingering sweetness from the honey and that light touch of spiciness in Wallonian Dawn,” he would pair brats or kielbasa. And with Room 237 Biere d’Hiver: dessert.

At Extra Billy’s Barbecue, you can take away the food as well as the beer. “I would pair our BBQ nachos with any of our hoppy offerings—Citra Ass Down, Kong Krush, or Midlo,” suggested brewer Brandon Tolbert. “The citrus bite accompanied with tomatoes, onions, and salty chips make a great combo. Our traditional pulled pork (sandwich or by itself) pairs great with Umbra [stout]. The rub used on our pork butts and smoky flavor meld perfectly with Umbra’s coffee and chocolate notes.”

Aaron Thackery, brewery manager at Isley Brewing, would pair The Bribe oatmeal porter with Cincinnati cinnamon-style chili; Betwixt American pale ale with a spicy 5-layer taco dip; Plain Jane Belgian white ale with a mixed-fruit salad; and Root Of All Evil ginger golden ale with barbecue grilled chicken.

Another strategy is to choose your beer and plan a menu accordingly. Petty has several suggestions to match with  your Hardywood Singel. Besides the chips and guacamole mentioned above, Petty envisions pimento cheese, deviled eggs or fried okra with sweet chili sauce: “The sweet bready fried okra will be perfectly accentuated by the fruity esters in Singel, and the balance of heat and sweetness of the chili sauce will play on the tropical hop notes.”

With the Hardywood Cream Ale, Petty would pair burgers and meatballs. With The Great Return, he’d recommend buffalo wings and nachos, and with the coffee notes of the Sidamo he would pair barbecue ribs and brownies.

“Chicken wings and Brown Ale is one of my favorite pairings,” said Dave Gott of Legend Brewing, “or Pilsner with a well-made hummus.”

COTU’s Killelea has other suggestions for Super Bowl revelers: “If you’re going out to a party with some friends, obviously make sure that someone is the designated driver or that you have a cab lined up… plan ahead and be responsible.”

If you’re the host, he advises not to run out of beer or food, and encourage your guests to drink plenty of water. At the end of the game, offer some coffee for the road. And, perhaps most important, “Make sure everyone gets home safely.


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