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A little over a week ago, I had the pleasure of attending The Great Match: Gourmands and Grains, the kick-off event for the first-ever Big Brew Houston, the second largest craft beer festival in the U.S. Despite being the first ‘run’ of this event, The Great Match was impeccably planned and spotlighted plenty of high-quality brews paired with appetizing dishes, each served by brew masters and chefs, respectively. Talk about being in good company!

The event brought to life two styles of beer and food pairings: complementary pairings and contrasting pairings. Complementary pairings are those in which similar flavors or even identical ingredients are present in both the beer and the food. The similarities in tastes serve as a thread that sews the drink and the bite together, making it a unified ball of pleasure for your taste buds. Contrasting pairings involve two dissimilar flavors — perhaps spicy food coupled with a sweet, malty beer that helps put out the heat.

Below are what I thought to be some of the best pairings at The Great Match, tagged with the style of pairing so as to offer more insight into what I was referring to a moment ago and perhaps serve as inspiration for pairings of your own at home. 

Food: America’s Taquito de Carnitas Pibil
Beer Pairing: New Belgium Snapshot
Type of Pairing: Complementary
A generously-portioned guajillo braised pork carnitas taco from one of my favorite spots, America’s, featured full-flavored carnitas, tangy pickled onions and queso fresco inside of a corn tortilla whose maiz flavor was prominent. Snapshot, a wheat beer, brought breadiness to the table, which paired nicely with the tortilla. Some tangy flavor notes in the medium-bodied, refreshing beer really made the pickled onions and guajillo in the carnitas ‘pop.’

Food: RDG Bar Annie’s BBQ Red Fish Pâté
Beer Pairing: Alaskan Brewing Co. Amber
Type of Pairing: Contrasting
Smoked chile salsa intertwined with red fish pâté brought forward a slightly spicy, full-flavored bite that was perfectly paired with the smooth Alaskan Amber. The alt style beer maintained a steady malty flavor composure throughout the sip, which was well received as an offset to the pâté’s spiciness.

Food: El Big Bad’s Beef Chili
Beer Pairing: Buffalo Bayou Brewing Smoke on the Bayou
Type of Pairing: Complementary
This dish employed one of my preferred beer and food pairing tactics: using a little bit of the beer you’re pairing with the dish to cook the food. In this case, the crew at El Big Bad simmered their chili in a mix of Smoke on the Bayou along with a bit of chocolate, Mexican spices, coffee and more, producing a meaty dish that possessed a hint of sweetness. Paired with the smoky “big ass malt bomb” (Smoke on the Bayou) that has plenty of caramel, toffee and sugar flavors in it, this chili and beer duo was nicely suited for the cooler Fall weather.

Food: Massa’s Seafood Grill Smoked Salmon Crostini
Beer Pairing: Abita Brewing Andygator
Type of Pairing: Contrasting
Andygator is an easy-drinking bright IPA in which the traditional high-pitched hops character of an IPA is balanced by a hint of sweet maltiness. When united with the decadent salmon and aioli crostini, the assortment of flavors between the beer and the food – smoke, malt, hops, garlic – formed an orchestra of tastes that was pleasing to all of the senses.

Food: Maple Pumpkin Buttermilk Soup from Roost
Beer Pairing: Goose Island Brewing Co. Rambler Red IPA
Type of Pairing: Complementary
Thick in consistency and homey in flavor, Roost’s pumpkin buttermilk soup would be best described as ‘homey.’ Rich, fall flavors reminiscent of grandma’s cooking
were complemented with the woody, slightly spicy yet balanced personality of Rambler Red.

Both the food and brew pairings and the intimate nature of The Great Match made the event one of the best, if not the best beer events I’ve ever been to. I suspect it’ll be back for a second round in year 2 of Big Brew Houston. Don’t forget to snatch some tickets when the time is right. In the meantime, let me know what tasty pairings you come up with at home!

Carla Gomez

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