Beer and Spicy Food: Hoppy, Sweet, or Bubbly?

Another food and beer experiment: Beer and spicy food. Actually, this one almost didn’t even get off the ground. The following is a text exchange from me to the Haybag proposing a change in dinner plans:

Many of our exchanges follow this pattern.

Conventional wisdom dictates that hoppy beers go with spicy food. Although, I have seen some outright dismiss this as a myth, while others proclaim that high-ABV hoppy beers will actually make the heat worse. So, I decided to pair up some spicy Thai Drunken Noodle with Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s (hoppy), Left Hand Milk Stout (sweet and malty), Saison Dupont (bubbly), and Steigl Grapefruit Radler (sweet and fruity).

The Thai restaurant near us is good, and they list their Pad Kee Mao on their menu as available on a one to three pepper heat scale. When pressed, they revealed they have two undisclosed levels of pain: (1) Four Peppers; and (2) “Five Pepper Thai Spicy”. The first red flag I ignored was when they asked me twice if I was sure I wanted Five Pepper Thai Spicy. The second was when they made me sign a waiver.

After coughing my way home from the airborne particulate pepper choking the air in my car, I psyched my digestive system up for the upcoming havoc (read: prophylactic antacid). Let’s do this:

Deviant Dale’s (Hoppy)
I am a big fan of Deviant Dale’s. It’s bitterness and dank, resinous Columbus hops go well with the spice and basil of the hell feast before me. From the first bite, my taste buds long for the flavor combo, but it seems to provide no more relief than would the fleeting respite of an uncaring glass of water. In fact, I think it might be making it angrier. It tastes great together, though. It’s pretty twisted.

Fortunately, Deviant Dale’s eventually starts working some tongue soothing magic. But not before my internal body temperature has apparently climbed several degrees:

Left Hand Milk Stout (Sweet and Malty)
This is a milk stout. So it has lactose, which is milk sugar. Milk sugar will generally not ferment, which adds body and leaves behind residual sugars for increased sweetness. This beer seems to fit the “Sweet Beats Heat” rule. Also, milk is a well-known counter-measure for spicy food.

This thing is nearly the opposite of Deviant Dale’s. My tongue yearns for the refuge of its creamy, full-bodied, sweet, chocolatey, malty goodness; but the flavor combo isn’t going to rock any worlds. Body temperature continues rising. Nose begins to run.

Saison Dupont (Bubbly)
Saison Dupont brings it with herbal, lightly lemon, funky hay and grass, and a little spiciness of its own. But the key is that this beer’s palate-cleansing carbonation could strip the chrome off a trailer hitch.

This might have been my all-around favorite. It was tasty with the Pad Kee Mao, and it did a good job of dousing flames. Interestingly, the carbonation is so prickly that if you prolong the interaction with the spice by holding the beer on your throbbing tongue, it feels like a masochist challenge. Saison Dupont doesn’t F around.

Stiegl Radler Grapefruit (Sweet and Fruity)
This crazy bastard is half Stiegl Goldbräu and half natural grapefruit soda. If you’re going to drink a Shandy or some other such beverage, it might as well be this stuff. At least the fruit tastes real. Although, the Haybag claims it tastes like a hobo drink.

Fancy hobo glass.

It is sweet, which can cut heat. And I thought the acids from the grapefruit juice might be able to cut through spice. It did an OK job.

No more Five Pepper Pad Kee Mao. Indeed, the beers ultimately soothed my throbbing tongue, but they did nothing to preclude a full-body sweat. In fact, at one point I thought my eyeballs were going to melt like that Nazi at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think I’ll go back to the Two or Three Pepper version with Deviant Dale’s (or I bet Troegs Perpetual IPA would be good, too). Dale has just enough sweetness, creaminess, bitterness, and complementary flavor to be perfect with reasonably hot Pad Kee Mao. Maybe I’ll throw more Saison Dupont in the mix when it starts coming in 16 oz. tall boys.


13 thoughts on “Beer and Spicy Food: Hoppy, Sweet, or Bubbly?

  1. There’s a place in Philly called Han Dynasty (Dan Dan Noodles, Dumplings in Hot Chili Oil, and Three Cup Chicken are spectacular!). They are legendary around here for not being shy with the spices and they supposedly berate you if you try to modify the order from what they recommend, i.e. if you can’t take the heat, don’t order the dish! I went there for dinner last summer and we went with the IPA thing to beat the heat. While the beer paired beautifully with the meal (Green Flash Double IPA and a couple others that I can’t recall), I was still sweating profusely throughout the meal (there’s nothing sexier than a sweaty, bald Sicilian!).

    As far as your beer selections go, I’ve had two out of four and I totally agree. Deviant Dales and Saison Dupont are kick ass beers!

    Great write up by the way! All in the name of research.


    • Thanks!
      Nice. I love abusive Asian restaurants! And I kind of like the spicy pain. Makes you feel alive.

      Deviant Dale’s goes so well. Saison Dupont held its own, too, and is really versatile. The coolest part is that they’re so different.

      • I’m cool with the burn every now and again. The only time I don’t like it is when my palate goes numb and I can’t taste anything anymore.

  2. Very nice post here. I go back and forth with spicy food. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I try and avoid it. I would have thought the Saison would have been the clear victor here, but I’ve never done the test. I did have a black ipa once with a spicy mexican burrito one time and it was a terrible idea! The coffee flavors sucked!

    • I love it, but should avoid it. The Deviant Dale’s flavors and complementary burn just go so well with the Drunken Noodle. But you have to be able to hack a little pain, because things may get worse before they get better with Dale (and probably with many IPAs). And yeah, black IPAs are kind of oddballs with food (maybe good with steak?).

    • In full disclosure, I did this on a weeknight, so I had to do the Deviant Dale’s and Left Hand with dinner. I did the Stiegl with leftovers later in the evening. Then I did the Saison Dupont (which is a big bottle) the next day after work with more leftovers.

  3. That text message thread is awesome. Also, this sounds like an interesting experiment. In my experience, Saison Dupont seemingly works with any meal, including spicy stuff. I also like the spicy food IPA connection, but I always think it intensifies flavors (not that that is a bad thing though). I would never have thought of a milk stout with spicy food, unless said spicy food was, like, spicy barbecue or something like that (some sort of smoke or char to match the roast of the stout)… Anywho, great post.

    • Thanks! When I sent the text, I was hoping for a lively reply. The Haybag delivered.

      And yeah, the IPA defintely made things a little hairy for a little while, but then it ultimately managed to cool things down. But you’re right, we like the pain…otherwise we wouldn’t be eating spicy food!

  4. Pingback: How to Pour a Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro (Do Not Attempt at Home) | beerbecue

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