Editor's Note: We're trying to find the best beers to drink with our favorite Serious Eats recipes. Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is here to help.
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Goa, located on the Southwest coast of India, was a territory of Portugal until it was annexed by India in 1961. Goan cuisine blends the pungent spice of Indian food with influences garnered from of over 400 years of Portuguese colonialism.
Spicy fish curries are a staple of the Goan diet. Goan sauces are built on a piquant paste of fiery chilies, garlic, and the earthy and floral flavors of cumin and coriander. The nutty sweetness of shaved coconut or coconut milk tames the spicy intensity while the tang of tamarind or kokum provides a touch of acidity to balance the richness.
So what are the best beers to pair with this dish?
English India Pale Ale was created for export to the East Indies, and it really works with this dish. The style's balance of bitterness, earthy/citrus hop flavors and sweet malt make it a perfect match for the exotic flavors of Indian cuisine. English IPAs are not as hop-centered as their American cousins. The more varied palate offers both complements and contrasts to the many flavors of the curry.
Belgian Saison has both bitterness and effervescent carbonation to cleanse away the spices and cut the richness of the coconut milk in Goan curry, re-setting your palate for the next bite. Earthy black pepper notes will pick up the cumin and coriander. Overtones of light stone fruits and citrus complement the sauce's sweetness and tamarind tang. A version with a touch of wild brettanomyces yeast will have an even sharper earthiness.
For something simpler that will give the curry less competition, try a German Pilsner. German Pilsners are more hop-centered and less malty-sweet than their Czech counterparts. Spicy hops and light bready sweetness will stand up to the intense flavors of the dish. The crisp, dry finish will wash away the spice.
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Michael's Beer Picks
English India Pale Ale
Meantime India Pale Ale: Regarded as one of the best recreations of a 19th century India Pale Ale. Huge hop bitterness and flavor, but balanced by ample sweet malt. This beer has notes of stone fruit, ginger, and orange marmalade.
Thornbridge Jaipur: A lower alcohol English IPA. Massive grassy and orange citrus hop flavors with lingering bitterness, offset by grainy sweetness with hints of honey.
Goose Island India Pale Ale: Bursting with hops. High and lingering bitterness, spicy and citrus flavors. Robust grainy sweet malt to balance.
Saison Dupont Vieille Provision: Loads of black-pepper spice and stone fruit. Bracingly bitter and bone-dry finish. The benchmark for the style.
Fantome Saison: A touch of brettanomyces gives an extra earthy funk. Light, dry, with peppery spice and engaging fruitiness.
Saint Somewhere Saison Athene: Light, bright, and fruity, with lemon and green apple notes. Earthy herbal notes from subtle additions of coriander and grains of paradise.
Victory Prima Pils: An excellent example of the style with unusual subtle citrus notes. Crisp and dry with high levels of bitterness and peppery/anise hop flavors. Light bready malt.
Bitburger Pils: A bit maltier and sweeter than some other German Pilsners. Bready malt flavors provide an ample bed for spicy European hops and sharp bitterness. Crisp, dry finish.
Schell's Pils: Sharp hop bitterness and flavor with notes of licorice, herbs and pepper. Background of sweet, grainy malt. Crisp finish.
About the Author: Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is the lead educator and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts beer tastings for private parties and corporate events. His beer musings can be read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, his own Perfect Pint Blog, The Hop Press at Ratebeer.com, the City Pages Hot Dish Blog, and in respected national beer magazines.