July 22, 2009

Mug Shots: Perfect pair: BBQ & beer

“Grilling, broiling, barbecuing — whatever you want to call it — is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.” —James Beard

 

I confess to being a novice when it comes to barbecue (henceforth, “BBQ”), other than to observe it as one of the more glorious summertime culinary arts. There are as many different methods of BBQ-ing as there are individuals in search of the perfect brisket.

It is a matter of profound inner consolation that precisely the same wisdom applies to beer, brewing and one’s lifelong pursuit of excellence in creative fermentables, and consequently, there seems to be general agreement that BBQ and beer should be brought together as often as possible to cohabit as a loving couple. But under what terms? Is BBQ the domain of light, yellowish mass-market lagers, or do we dare entertain the notion — gasp! — of “pairing” BBQ with craft beer?

Given the ever-expanding range of colors, flavors, textures and styles in craft beer, surely there is an ideal beer for pairing with any and all conceivable ways of smoking, grilling, rubbing, marinating, spicing and modifying appropriate animal parts in fulfillment of the backyard BBQ skill set. Yet I’ve heard BBQ aficionados dismiss craft beer in this context, as though the essential nitty-gritty of their chosen passion somehow stands to be sullied by association with the considerable wonders of my own.

As the noted epicure and detective Nero Wolfe often said, “Pfui.”

Flavorless mass-market lager as a thirst-quencher while manning the BBQ pit is a plausible scenario, as is Gatorade and the simplicity of ice water, but offering pale lager as the ideal accompaniment to a delectable rack of ribs constitutes timidity and underachievement of a peculiarly low order.

This beer lover’s mind races in contemplation of the craft beers boasting essential traits that enhance and complement BBQ, not merely wash it expeditiously down: hoppy American-style Brown, dark-hued Robust Porter, burnished Belgian-style Tripel and piney India Pale Ale … the list is huge, if rarely exercised. In comfy conceptual terms, perhaps the best match of all is beer that incorporates smoked malt in the grist. I’m hungry already. 

Think, smoke and drink the possibilities, and if you uncover an appropriate pairing, let me know. Surreptitious craft beer and BBQ experiments currently are under way, and an event showcasing our findings may soon follow. For now, we must keep it a secret. Auggie Busch IV might find out.

•••

The 14th annual Brewers of Indiana Guild (BIG) Microbrewers Festival in Indianapolis took place last weekend, and several Louisville-area readers were spotted bearing stylish tasting glasses amid the bedlam of 4,000 revelers at Opti-Park in Broad Ripple. It was quite the show, indeed.

Lines admittedly were long but seemed to be moving at a steady clip toward beer, food and port-a-cans. There were cornhole games, organized keg tossings and far more special, timed beer releases than I’ve noticed previously. Seemingly every half hour, an Indiana microbrewery was seen tapping a unique keg or cask of rare beer, including high-gravity seasonal favorites, numerous barrel-aged styles and one-off creations.   

Particularly well sated were hopheads, who rejoiced at the newest innovation offered by World Class Beverages, Indiana’s largest craft beer wholesaler: Hopapalooza, a tent devoted exclusively to 25 egregious hop bombs from all over the United States, including a few that are almost impossible to obtain on a regular basis in Indiana.

Since there is an available scientific measurement called International Bittering Units (IBUs) to gauge such beers, I found myself speculating on a hedonistic, personal equation of my own: LDUs, or Localized Desiccation Units. LDU incorporates tallies of 2-ounce festival samples, approximate IBUs, alcohol content, elapsed time and blistering summertime temperatures, with the latter usually pointing the way toward dehydration and heat stroke, except that the one factor no one predicted for the past weekend’s BIG festival was a mind-bogglingly cool 70-degree temperature for an outdoors event in July. 

This had the effect of lowering my total score, which still came to 1,238 LDUs — although unfortunately, I can no longer remember the formula.

I didn’t even pass out at the end. 

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit potablecurmudgeon.blogspot.com for more beer.