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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One approach to pairing beer with food is to think about "light" and "dark." By this I don't mean color. By light and dark I mean the types of flavors in both the dish and the dram.
Light flavors are bright and refreshing, sometimes displaying a touch of acidity; foods like fresh garden salad, pan-fried pork chops with sweet and spicy fruit salsa, or pasta with pesto and grilled tomatoes. Light flavored foods call for dry beers with those same fresh fruity and spicy qualities: kölsch, pilsner, wheat beers, and citrusy pale ales.
Dark flavored foods are redolent with roast, toast, and earthy, savory goodness. Enchiladas with mole sauce, roasted meats with stewed, dried fruits, and musty mushroom risotto are all examples of foods with dark flavors. These pair well with dark flavored beers like porters, bocks, and funky bières de garde.
Chili Verde is all about the light. The faint smokiness of the roasted peppers is more than offset by the bright tomatillo acidity. The fresh, green chilis bring in the zip, so there are none of the dark, raisiny notes from dried peppers. The slow-braised pork is more meaty-sweet than toasty.
This dish calls for bright beers that finish crisp and lean towards malt to balance the acidity. Too much hop becomes harsh. A full-bodied, malty sweetness helps to tame the heat.
If ever a dish was made for American style lagers, this is it. Light, crisp, gently sweet, and barely hopped, these lagers balance the flavors of the food without getting in the way. In fact, the full-flavored dish seems to pull more character out of this beer that by itself can be rather characterless. The clean finish and high carbonation leave your mouth feeling fresh. If you prefer a fuller-flavored lager try a Dortmunder export. It's a bit stronger than other lagers, with bigger malt sweetness and balancing spicy hops. The hops are there, but the richer malt backbone keeps them from becoming harsh.
Wheat beers of all kinds make great partners for this dish. Wheat beer and pork are natural together. The bready, saltine-cracker character of the wheat works like a tortilla to balance the heat and acidity in the chili. The light, citrus acidity of German-style wheat beers matches that of the tomatillos head-on, and high carbonation wipes the palate clean.
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Michael's Beer Picks
Full Sail Session Lager: This was the best pairing of all the beers I tried with this dish. It has just enough hops to keep it sharp, but not enough to make it harsh. It's sweet enough to balance the spice and acid, but not so sweet as to get in the way. There is enough carbonation to ease the burn, but not enough to wipe away all the lingering flavors.
Leinenkugel Original: This one's a bit sweeter than the Full Sail, with some corny overtones in the flavor and aroma. The corn actually works well with the chili, a bit like corn tortillas.
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold: Dortmunder is similar to a pilsner, but more balanced between malt and hops. Graham cracker sweetness comes in first followed by a sharp, mineral, shot of bitterness and spicy noble hop flavors. The malty sweetness first sooths the spice, but the late arriving hops kick it back up.
Shiner 102 Double Wheat: This stronger-than-most American wheat beer reminded me of a wheat maibock. Flavors of fresh white-bread slathered in honey are balanced by a bit of grassy hop and light bitterness. The rounded, full-bodied malt smoothed out the spice, while background fruitiness pulled out a bit of fruit in the dish. The flavors blended almost seamlessly. A great match.
Schneider Weisse: A classic German Hefeweizen. Low levels of hops means no harshness in the finish. Bready wheat malt acts like a tortilla. Schneider Weisse is balanced to fruity, banana side of the yeast flavor range. It soothes the heat, calms the acidity, and bounces off the peppery, fruity flavors of the dish. And of course hefeweizen is great with pork.
Aecht Schlenkerla Smoked Weizen: Meaty smoke combines with the classic flavors of a hefeweizen to create a pairing with a little something extra. This one's great for pulling out the subtle smoke of the roasted peppers.
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.