Beer/Food Pairing Attempts: Creole Hoppin’ Jean and People’s Porter

Creole Hoppin’ Jean from Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry paired with People’s Porter by Foothills Brewing.

Question you never hear asked:  What will pair well with this Bud Light?

What you probably have heard is the old joke, how is American beer like having sex in a canoe?  They’re both fucking close to water.

Trying to figure out beer and food pairings is an example of why I love craft beer.  Craft beers are more than just slightly fizzy alcohol delivery devices.  They also, for the most part, aren’t just product to be made and sold by the unit.  Craft beer when made well has character that can be celebrated on its own or in tandem with food.

Periodically, this year (I’m hoping once a week) I’ll be making a recipe out of one of my many cookbooks (almost all vegetarian) and pairing them with a beer.

Pairings usually work best when you choose the beer first.  I am going to do that from now on and I will explain why in a moment.

I love People’s Porter.  It is a great example of a British-style porter.  The hop presence is more herbaceous and less citrusy and piney and it has a wonderfully dry maltiness with chocolaty taste and espresso finish.  For a beer that dark with a light caramel head it is very light and easy to drink with just enough bitterness to make you take another sip.

This Hoppin’ Jean recipe is also very good.  It has wonderful layers of flavors built on the base of the black-eyed peas and the brown rice.  The use of homemade vegetable stock instead of water adds even more depth with and earthy quality.  It was a bit too spicy and I’ll adjust that on future versions.  It has that warming feel of home that good soul/southern food always provides.

Did the pairing work?  Not so much, and it was precisely because I picked the food before I picked the beer.  I had never made this hoppin’ john recipe before.  I had no idea what its flavor profile would be.  My beer selection was a guess.  It was a somewhat educated guess, but it was still a guess.

The Hoppin’ Jean was too spicy and overpowered the porter.  That is rather surprising because I chose a porter instead of a brown ale because I believed it would stand up to the spiciness.  The other problem was I thought the tomatoes would be a bigger presence and provide a little more sweetness to balance out the heat from the spices.

The next pairing for this dish will have to be something hoppier or something leaning towards a sweeter malt profile.  The first thing that comes to mind is an American-style brown ale (Duck Rabbit Brown Ale or Lonerider Sweet Josie).  That would provide a bigger hop profile to fight through the spiciness and still keep the darker malt flavors which did work.  Maybe an American pale ale which would be hoppier then the brown ale, and give malt flavors closer to biscuits and bread.  An IPA might be too much hops for this.  Or, better yet, go with a Belgian style dubbel or tripel.  The sweetness in the beer would hopefully bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes and the high alcohol content would cut through the spiciness.  The same could go for an imperial Russian stout.

I almost did not write about this initial tasting because it did not work.  Then it dawned on me that I learned so much from this precisely because it did not work.  If it had worked, I literally would have just been fat and happy.  I would have enjoyed the meal, cleaned up and went on about my day.  I would be jotting down notes on how great wonderful the experience was.  Instead, it didn’t come off exactly like I wanted it and I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out why. 

What did I learn?  First, choose the beer first or choose the food first, but choose the one whose taste you understand best.  Second, spiciness and heat can overpower a beer unless it is really hoppy or is high ABV with lots of alcohol to cut through that spiciness.

I will revisit this recipe later to find the right pairing.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, I’m going to try something else next week.  I don’t know what yet, but I’ll have fun figuring it out.

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