August 7th, 2019, West Shore Café on Lake Tahoe: A glamorous lakeside lawn surrounded by boats—in storage, in the water. Gorgeous green cut by boastful blue. Sunshine, money, wisps of clean air.
The Dead Winter Carpenters played sleepy tunes: Neil Young and Tom Petty covers, as if they knew I had been longing for live music, as if they also knew I’m a purist. This event was no place for modern jam band slosh.
In front of me, on a beveled white porcelain plate, the size of a shy handful: tangy, tender, sweet, smoky pulled pork on a buttery-fluff Hawaiian roll. Cherry barbeque sauce, a salad of bitter greens, herbs, red onion, apple, barely coated in a citrusy vinaigrette. A meal in a bite.
The beers: Alibi Ale Works’ Mr, Tartacular’s Fantasy Island, Almanac’s Love Hazy IPA, Sudwerks’ Nom Nom Nelson India Pale Lager, Belching Beaver’s (passionfruit?) Berliner Weisse.
The wine: A see-through ruby pink one, a burgundy-colored one, a purpley one, and white. (This post is about beer, not wine).
I was invited to participate on a judging panel as a Beer Writer. And the judges were supposed to choose the one drink that paired best with the pork slider bite. So I put on my Goldilocks cap and started tasting.
Alibi Ale Works’ Mr. Tartacular’s Fantasy Island was a logical match to a pulled pork slider; “a luau in your mouth,” the server promoted. I thoroughly enjoyed the beer’s flavors of guava, pineapple, mango, refreshingly smooth wheat and a tangy tartness, but these layers didn’t quite keep up with the slider’s intensity. The beer possessed flavor complexity, but the intensity couldn’t step up to the pulled pork plate. Points for strategy though.
I would drink the shit out of Almanac’s brightly colored, smooth, mouth-coating, aromatic Love Hazy IPA on any given day, but it lacked the body to stand up to the food pairing. The perfumey floral hop aroma nearly jumped out of my glass at first whiff of the pulled pork’s smoky dark fruit intensity.
Sudwerks’ Nelson IPL was the beer I was looking for. The bready two-row malt with a hint of caramel punch played at the same level as the nutty pulled pork and fluffy sweet roll. Nelson’s sharp, tropical hop character countered the bitter greens and matched the bite’s apple and cherry notes.
Belching Beaver’s Berliner Weisse was a delightfully bready and thick version of the style but it lacked the flavor layers to play this game.
As for the wine, well, in Garrett Oliver’s words, real beer “goes places where wine cannot go.”
Obviously, I chose a beer as the best drink to pair with the slider. I would be a liar and a cheat to choose a wine, with nothing to back me up besides “yes, this is working…?” But the winos outnumbered me. And they chose a watery acidic red liquor as the best match to a bitter, fruity, smoky, tangy, sweet, bite of food. Ah, oh well. I’ll let them have it, because beer won the People’s Choice. What might that suggest? 🙂