Editor's Note: We're big beer lovers, and of course we love to eat. But what's the best way to bring food and beer together? Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is here to help.
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I'm sure many hop heads will disagree, but to be perfectly honest, Double and Imperial IPAs are among my last-picked beers to pair with food. With their hopped-up intensity they easily overwhelm most foods and seem harsh and astringent with many dishes that can stand up to them. For my palate they're a bit too bitter and boozy for sweet dishes and add too much fuel to the fire for spicy. But that doesn't mean you should take double IPA out of your pairing toolbox altogether.
In general, many of the guidelines that apply to pairing IPA also apply to double IPA, only more so. It takes a big flavored dish to stand up to the big flavor and high bitterness of these beers. You have the same three flavor hooks—bitter, sweet, and hoppy—but at greater intensity and with the added element of alcohol. And don't ignore the alcohol; it can make double IPA clash with foods that might be perfectly good with IPA. Certain sweeter foods will amplify it, making the beer taste extra boozy. Alcohol's heat will counter hop's cooling effect on spice.
Go for Salt
As I wrote in my column the best food to eat with IPA, bitterness can amplify salt and umami in food, and in turn, the bitterness is tamed a bit. This makes double IPA delicious with salty cured meats. Try Avery Maharaja with ham. The brazen bitterness brings out the salty side of the meat while hop flavors will latch onto the cloves that are sometimes used to flavor it. The slightly syrupy peach and pineapple notes in the beer work like a pineapple glaze.
Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and Russian River Pliny the Elder are great with charcuterie and sausages. They stand up to the more intensely flavored meats, but don't overwhelm the milder ones. The hops boost the meaty umami and salt and then scour away any lingering fat.
Grilled and Sauced
Grilled meats and saucy barbecue are just screaming for a sip of double IPA. The charred, caramelized crust and meaty middle of a rare steak work with both the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops. Try this with Victory Hop Wallop. It's dry, crisp, and not-kidding bitter, cutting through the meat while leaving the flavor intact. If you're feeling really porky, try grilled pork chops wrapped in bacon. The fruity flavors of the malt and hops will go wild with one of those.
Sweeter double IPAs like Southern Tier Unearthly, Surly Abrasive, and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA have flavors that are almost like the syrupy juice in a can of fruit. These are great with barbecued meats smothered in sweet, tomato and brown sugar based sauce. The beer catches the caramelization of the meat and finds subtle fruity flavors in the sauce.
Sharp cheddar, funky Stilton, or stronger blue cheeses have the flavor intensity to hold their own against the hops in Double IPA—pungent cheese just might be the best possible thing to eat with these beers. The salty cheese plays well to the salt/bitter dynamic, and all of these cheeses leave a creamy, mouth-coating film that the hops and alcohol will clear away. If you're looking for a beer to match a no-wimps-allowed cheese plate, you can reach for the big guns. Higher-alcohol examples like Bell's Hopslam, Great Divide Hercules Double IPA, and Founders Double Trouble will all do nicely.
What About Dessert?
If you're going to roam into dessert territory, it's important to play to the beer's strength: think caramel, salt, and spice. It will take a fairly rich dessert to tackle the task. Ricotta cheesecake with ginger crust and salted caramel sauce will score on all of those points. An English-style double IPA like Geary's Imperial IPA is a good choice. It has a pronounced caramel side and toasty malt profile, and the hops lean toward the spicy flavors with lighter citrusy overtones. Don't have the time to make cheesecake? Try this beer with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream.
Ok, hopheads, tell us: what do you like to eat with bold and bitter double IPAs?
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. Follow him on Twitter at @aperfectpint