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Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Ever since prehistoric humans gathered around glowing embers to roast a freshly killed mastodon leg, the ritual of grilling has served as a relaxing way for man to bond with his fellow man.
The crackling of the fire and the smoky goodness imparted into foods by radiant coals cannot be duplicated even in the high-tech world of convection ovens and infrared burners. There is something about gathering around a fire with friends that warms the soul. Add a delicious libation to sip and the evening is complete.
Grilling season is here, so it is time to kick back and enjoy the fellowship of friends and fire-roasted foods with appropriate beverages. What is the best thing to sip on while grilling?
Before you dash out and buy a suitcase of commercial swill, allow me to make a few suggestions that might broaden your horizons. Everyone has a different palate and preferences, so we will examine a few diverse styles of beer and wine for grilling.
Hops and burgers
Beer is probably the most popular grilling beverage with good reason — it is cold and refreshing. Not to mention that it is versatile when pairing with food. It is hard to find a bad beer and food match. What is the best beer?
Forget about dark versus light, ale versus lager and tastes great versus less filling. The most important determinant of beer style is the amount of hops used.
Hops impart a bitterness and a citrusy or conifer note. Some people have an affinity for hops and others loathe them. Beer styles range from barely detectable hops to massive amounts.
Lightly hopped beers display malty, nutty caramel notes. Most commercial beers filling the cold case at the grocery store are lightly hopped and use light malt, rice or corn. Craft brews usually use 100 percent malt and run the gamut from light to heavy roast.
Lightly hopped styles include brown ale, Vienna lager, bock, double bock and most lagers. Anything labeled as an India Pale Ale (IPA) or Imperial IPA should be well hopped. Malty beers tame down the heat in spicy foods, while hoppy beers complement the savory qualities of burgers and steaks.
Wine and spice
If you have a proclivity for wine, a light refreshing white is nice to sip while grilling, but you might want a more substantial red to go with that grilled steak or cheeseburger.
Grilling infuses meats with a smoky quality that creates an interesting scenario for wine pairing. Tannins in red wines act as a counterpoint to the fat in meat.
If using a fiery rub or marinade, I would suggest sticking with malty beer for scorching spicy foods because heat makes the tannins in red wine seem harsh and bitter. White wine goes well with seafood, but dry rose pairs famously well with salmon.
Avoid red with seafood marinated with lemon juice as it will taste bitter. Robust reds such as zinfandel and malbec pair well with zesty barbecue sauced meats. Cabernet sauvignon is the classic match with a steak.
Gordon’s picks for grilling libations
*Prices are approximate and subject to variation
Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager (Lexington )
Devil’s Backbone recently expanded its capacity by constructing a new brewery in Lexington.
Vienna lager is made from malts roasted to an amber red color to showcase the nutty caramel flavors and is balanced with a light touch of hops. This malty brew does a great job of extinguishing the fire in spicy foods. I like to grill sausages in a beer bath, and this one works swimmingly.
4.9% alcohol by volume. $9/six-pack
MODERATELY HOPPY BEER
Anchor Steam Beer (San Francisco)
A unique brewing process is employed here. Lager yeast is used but the brew is uncharacteristically fermented at warm temperatures.
The name steam comes from the old practice of fermenting the brew on rooftops where cool seaside breezes made it appear that steam was rising from the vats. The brew has a golden amber color and is moderately hopped with Northern Brewer. It is great with any grilled seafood.
4.9% ABV. $9/six-pack
Lagunitas Red (Petaluma, Calif.)
This California brewer specializes in brews with extra backbone. The malts used are roasted to a copper red color and copious hops are added, producing a citrusy, piney note balanced with toasty malt flavors. I really like hoppy beers such as this one.
Try this beer with about any grilled item, especially gourmet cheddar and bacon burgers. Lagunitas says this beer is seasonal. So if you can’t find it, try their IPA.
7.8% ABV. $10/six-pack
REFRESHING WHITE WINE
Santolo Vinho Verde (Mealhada, Portugal)
Vinho Verde literally translated means “Green Wine.”
The region’s cool maritime climate produces green grapes with low sugar content resulting in a light, low alcohol wine. The wine is light, crisp and refreshing, displaying citrus notes and a zippy tingle of light carbonation. It is great while grilling or with Chesapeake spiced shellfish. The label has a crab on it in case you forget.
9% ABV. $10
REFRESHING PINK WINE
Bricco dei Tati Rose(Treiso, Italy)
Treiso, meaning three, marked the third milestone Roman soldiers traveling from Alba encountered. The area also saw fierce fighting during World War II.
Today the area is famous for Barbaresco, the grape used to make this wine. The wine, produced in a small, family-owned winery, displays light fresh strawberry and rose petal flavors and matches great with grilled salmon or tuna. If you think all pink wines are sweet, think again.
13.5% ABV. $10
RED WINE FOR STEAK
Finca el Reposo Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza, Argentina)
This robust red is crafted from 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes grown on 45-year-old vines located in Argentina’s best region.
Partially aged in French oak, the wine has an opaque cordovan color. Rich cassis and bramble aromas lead to a palate of black fruits shaded with cedar and minerals. Serve with steak.
13.8% ABV. $15
Gordon Kendall’s column runs monthly in Extra.
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