Thursday, September 25, 2014

Desert Hops: Beer & Food

As The Desert Hops International Beer Festival in Las Vegas approaches this Saturday, I thought I’d kick off the weekend and write about one of my favorite beer and food pairings. (Ignoring for awhile that there are so many beer styles that pair well with many types of food.)

I’ve been a hophead since my homebrewing days in the 80s and 90s. For years my favorites beer style has always been any type of Pale Ale or India Pale Ale. And then I discovered Imperial IPAs, the Big Kahuna of IPA! Average Alcohol By Volume ranges from 7.0% to 14.0% and the higher the IBUs the better!

A short list of my favorite beers:

  • Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA - An IPA with tastes that include hops, citrus and grassy (6.0% ABV / 60 IBU)
  • Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA - An Imperial IPA with tastes that include brandied fruitcake, raisin, and citrus. (9.0% ABV / 90 IBU)
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - Not an IPA, but a great, widely available, basic, hoppy pale ale with piney and grapefruit aromas. (5.6% ABV / 38 IBU)
  • Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA - I’m guessing ‘Extra’ is like ‘Imperial’ only more new world sounding. Massive hop aromas of citrus, pine, and tropical fruit.  (7.2% ABV / 65 IBU)  
  • Stone Brewing Company India Pale Ale - A hoppy, citrusy IPA with grapefruit zest. (6.9% ABV / 77 IBU)
  • Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale - An American Strong Ale style beer with flavors of orange, citrus hops, and caramel. (7.2% ABV/ ‘Classified’ IBU)
Of course there are many other great IPAs or Imperial IPAs, like Russian River Brewing Company’s magical Pliny the Elder (8.0% ABV), but they aren’t on my radar for reasons of availability and/or price.
New Belgium has always made great beer and I’ve been a long-time fan of their Fat Tire Amber Ale (when I’m not drinking IPA), although I was never a big fan of their Ranger India Pale Ale (6.5% ABV / 70 IBU).

Recently I noticed Rampant* Imperial IPA (8.5% ABV / 85 IBU) at the grocery store and picked up a six pack. 
The first glass surprised me with a wonderful nose, taste, and hoppiness that I thought could only be found in a homebrewer’s fresh batch of homebrew. For a bottled beer it really has an 'on tap' freshness! Although BeerAdvocate only gave it an 85 rating I would say it should have at least a 90 rating.
*Synonyms for Rampant: uncontrolled, unrestrained, unchecked, unbridled, widespread.

The descriptive terms from New Belgium:  The hops include Mosaic, Calypso, Centennial and the malt bill is Pale and Black.
Visual - Golden with solid white foam and a slight hop sheen.
Aroma - Prominent lemon citrus and floral hop aroma and flavor including some nice dry-hopped fresh grass and spicy pine notes.
Flavor - Hint of sweetness in the background from malt, the rest is a story of ambitious but not overwhelming bitterness.
Mouthfeel - Warmth from alcohol is present but not conspicuous. Nice dry finish from carbonation and glass full of bitter hops.
Body - Medium-Light

Without knowing about the Brewers Association’s ‘Craft Beer and Food Pairing Chart’ I decided to have a Flank Steak with this tasty Imperial IPA. The chart recommends Imperial IPA be paired with smoked beef brisket, grilled lamb, or chicken-fried steak. Did they include the word ‘steak’ in their description? Close enough for me! And ‘smoked’ too?  I used apple wood smoking chips on my grill.

Guess what? Rampant Imperial IPA went very well with grilled/smoked Flank Steak, my famous Garlicky Spinach (click here for the garlicky spinach recipe) and La Brea Bakery’s Whole Grain Bread toasted on the grill. After a pretty warm day we enjoyed dinner on our patio and the beer hit the spot! I’d give it a 9/10 rating.  Maybe a Pliny the Elder would make it a 10 :-)

If this post has made you want to taste a wide variety of beers from around the world, you may want to go to The Desert Hops International Beer Festival in Las Vegas this Saturday. The people at the Cosmopolitan are pouring 150 beers from over 25 countries and serving multi-cultural food offerings from their restaurant partners—all in a lively social environment overlooking The Las Vegas Strip. Check it out and discover what beers you’ll enjoy with various occasions. It's the best bet on the Strip!



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