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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What is the best beer to drink with chicken korma? This fragrant North Indian dish usually features a creamy yogurt sauce thickened with nuts and spiced with a tantalizing blend of sweet onion, floral coriander, zesty ginger, and cayenne. It goes wonderfully with the right beer.
There are many ways to approach this beer pairing. You can pick a well-attenuated and bitter beer to pump up the piquancy, or you can tone it down with something fuller bodied. Because of the sauce's rich creaminess, you'll want something with some hops or high carbonation to clear your palate.
The spice and citrus zing from loads of English or American hops in an IPA serve to amplify the korma's complex spicing, while cutting the mouth-coating creaminess of the sauce. This recipe is rich enough and bold enough to hold its own against the sweeter malt and hi-test hopping of an Imperial IPA. The bigger malt backbone gives these beers juicy stone-fruit flavors that bring out hidden fruity notes in the dish.
For a gentler pairing option that picks up the flavors in the dish without hiking up the heat, try a German-style hefeweizen. Wheat proteins and suspended yeast give beers of this style a velvety mouthfeel that belies their light, refreshing nature. The beer meets the creamy sauce head on and wraps the spice in a cozy blanket that tames the flames. Malty sweetness talks to the caramelized onions, while yeast-induced banana and clove flavors pull out the spice and fruit in the dish. High carbonation cleanses the palate.
Belgian Golden Ales are surprisingly pleasant partners for this dish. Like hefeweizen, the unique fruit and spice of Belgian yeast strains emphasize the same flavors in the food. The elevated alcohol in these beers buttresses the sweetness and floral spice and slices through the creaminess of the sauce. The beer's bone-dry finish keeps the pairing fresh and light.
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Michael's Beer Picks
Imperial India Pale Ale
Surly Abrasive: This spring seasonal from the Minnesota's cult brewery is loaded with luscious tropical fruit flavors that are a great contrast to the cayenne, like the perfect pairing of mango and chili. The beer's bitterness clears the palate for the next bite.
Avery Maharaja: Another springtime release, Maharaja starts and finishes with a muscular kick of bitterness that is backed up by equally brawny caramel and bready malt. It's more than a match for the creamy, piquant sauce. Minty, grassy, and citrusy hop flavors both complement and contrast the Korma's fruity and floral notes.
Schneider Weisse: This one's a bit darker than other weizen beers, with a more pronounced malty sweetness and subdued banana and clove character. It's rich enough to calm the flames, sweet enough to call out to the sweet onions, and just fruity and spicy enough to match but not overpower similar flavors in the dish.
Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier: Weihenstephaner is lighter-bodied and less sweet than Schneider Weisse, with more banana and clove character and lemony acidity. This one does more to bring out the fruitiness of the dish and leaves you with a little more spice.
New Glarus Crack'd Wheat: This hopped-up hefe has the pairing qualities of a hefeweizen and an IPA in a single beer. Crack'd Wheat combines the bready sweetness and yeasty banana/clove flavors of a German wheat beer with an ample dosing of tangerine-citrus Amarillo hops. Sweet meets sweet. Fruit and spice meet fruit and spice. Hops push it all over the top and then wash it away.
Belgian Golden Ale
Duvel : This is the original and still classic example of the Belgian Golden Ale style. Rich and fluffy with cotton-candy malt and yeast flavors. It's big, but a dry finish and moderately assertive bitterness make it dangerously drinkable. Duvel is a complex beer that blend seamlessly with the recipe's complex spicing.
Victory Golden Monkey: This is a sweeter version of the style with sugary, fruit-syrup flavors that pull out the subtle fruit notes in the sauce. The enhanced maltiness also tones down the heat, letting other flavors come through more strongly.
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.