Editor's Note: Ask a what? A Certified Cicerone®. That is, a beer expert who has passed a particular certification exam administered by the Craft Beer Institute. Curious about beer certifications? Read more here.
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Cicerones are a bit like matchmakers, but they instead of finding pairs of people that have the right chemistry, they match food and beer, aiming for a pairing that helps both elements taste better. Some pairings are classics, but we asked our Cicerone crew for the weirdest—and most surprisingly successful—pairings they've discovered.
Here's what they had to say. Have you tried these pairings?
"A pairing that opened my eyes to just how transcendent the combination of food and beer can be (especially when it's unexpected) was a grease-stained paper bag full of fresh chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and a bottle of tart, funky Belgian kriek. Pork and fruit is a well established combination, and the acidity and lively carbonation of the lambic cuts through the fat of the crispy pork skins. The kinship goes deeper: the barnyard funk of the kriek matches the skin's subtle gamey twang, and one of my favorite aspects of a great kriek is the almond-like bitterness from the cherry pits. This really peeks through on the finish and compels you back to the bag of chicharrones for uno mas. I get weird looks every time I introduce this pairing, but it's always a crowd-pleaser."—John Verive (Beer of Tomorrow, Beer Paper LA)
"M&M McFlurries spiked with Bison Brewing's Honey Basil Ale paired with fries and ketchup was one that shockingly worked perfectly. It's hard not to go wrong with a boozy honey-flavored milkshake studded with colorful chunks of milk chocolate and a refreshing, almost minty basil finish. Pair that with crispy oil-drenched fries and sticky-sweet ketchup and you've got a meal fit for a king! (Or possibly a broke college student with an adventurous palate)."—Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)
"A rauchbier, like Schlenkerla Märzen, with cheesecake works for me—it's like having a smoked cheesecake. The cheesecake even makes the rauchbier more drinkable."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)
"Fresh buffalo mozzarella and kriek. I don't know if it's all that weird, but it's something I never would have thought of before I tried it. The acidity and the effervescence in the beer cuts through the richness of the cheese, and at the same time, the fruit flavors meld with the cheese to make a berries and cream feel happen. I really enjoy the combo as a summer dessert."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)
"Salted popcorn and robust porter. Salt is a natural flavor enhancer that tends to brighten and bring out flavors in almost anything, including beer. Which is the basic idea behind my favorite weird food/beer pairing, salted popcorn and porter. The robust porter style has caramel and chocolate flavors from the addition of crystal and chocolate malts. Both of these flavors are commonly found mixed with salt in food (salted caramel, chocolate with sea salt), so this pairing is just a continuation of these classic combinations."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)
"I once ate a peanut butter and jelly doughnut with a Schlafly Can Session Series Brown Ale. It was basically a jelly donut with peanut butter frosting on top. This confection by itself is an example of the power of flavor pairing: the rich and oily doughnut filled with sweet and sticky strawberry jelly is balanced by the salty-sweet icing. I cracked open a can of Schlafly's Brown ale and discovered absolute transcendence. The beer has a mild nuttiness which of course augmented that peanut butter icing, but the noticeable hoppiness helped to further tamp down the sweetness of the jelly and helped the fluffy doughnut pastry shine through." —Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)
"Typically when you think of pairing beer and chocolate, you reach for a nice stout. Instead, I like to put chocolate with a Belgian quad or dark strong ale. It's not the first pairing people think of, but the notes of dried fruit and caramel almost act as a sauce to a rich chocolatey dessert. I drool thinking about it."—Lindsay Bohanske (Love Beer, Love Food)
Have you tried any especially weird-but-delicious beer pairings? Tell us about them in the comments below.