Beer is supposed to be fun. Drinking it. Thinking about it. Talking about it. It should all be fun. Which is why, for the most part, I dislike lectures about the nuances of pairing beer and food. It gets academic, dogmatic and patronizing. It becomes uninspired, which is the last thing you want to be feeling at a music festival. I’ll be the first to say that beer pairing can be the absolute worst. But at OctFest, I promise, it won’t be.
The same flavors that exist in beer also exist in food. We’re going to see salt, acid, sweetness, fat, heat and umami. As a general rule, you don’t want any single flavor to dominate. If the saltiness of a dish starts to get riled up, you want the sweetness or acid in your beer to sit it back down. A good pairing between beer and food should be a conversation between the two, not a shouting match. So here are the beer and food pairings I’m going to be looking for at OctFest.
Hank’s Italian Beef with Collective Arts’ Mash Up the Jam
A Chicago-style beef sandwich is a formidable thing, especially when there’s spicy giardiniera in the vicinity. It needs a beer that will bring it on all fronts, and Collective Arts Brewing’s Mash Up the Jam does just that. This dry-hopped sour delivers hits of acid, bitterness and fruit, which work together to keep that mountain of fat and carbs in front of you from taking over.
Roberta’s Bee Sting with LIC’s Coded Tiles
The Bee Sting pie from Roberta’s is loaded with spicy soppressata, chiles, mozzarella, tomato sauce and honey. There’s a lot of aggressive flavors going on. Go for a simple, unassuming beer, or one with just as much flavor. I’ll be reaching for a Coded Tiles, a double dry-hopped pale ale from LIC Beer Project. Pale ales give you a sturdier malt base to handle all the heat and fat happening on the pie, and the floral nature of the hops will mesh will with the honey. Plus, they’re both from NYC. Not that that matters...but still. It’s cool.
Best Pizza’s Italian Combo with Sunday Beer Co.’s Sunday Beer
“Cold Cut Beer” is not technically a style of beer, but when it comes to hoagies—or subs or whatever you call them—a light lager is what I call a Cold Cut Beer. Sunday Beer Co. makes a small-batch light lager that tastes more like beer than water. With a balanced sandwich like Best Pizza’s classic Italian, you want a beer that won’t disrupt the harmony. This light lager’s clean base and soft hop presence is just what we need.
Hot Chick’s Hot Chicken Sando with Wicked Weed’s Medora
When it comes to hot chicken, you really want a distraction from all that heat. The tart, fruity flavors of Wicked Weed Brewing’s Medora will take your mind off of the oppressive reign of the hot sauce. The blackberries, raspberries, and hints of oak and red wine in this Asheville brew are enough to make you forget about the sweat on your forehead. Maybe.
Mission Chinese’s Green Tea Veggie Dumplings with Live Oak’s Hefe
Green tea is one of the more delicate flavors we have on this planet; it’s beautiful when given the space to shine, but easily lost when paired with louder ingredients. Mission Chinese’s veggie dumplings need a beer with a soft body, delicate fruit notes, and whisper of yeast and hops. Brewed in Austin, Texas, Live Oak Brewing Company’s hefeweizen checks all of those boxes, and it also happens to be one of the best hefeweizens in the country.
Colonia Verde’s CV Esquite Salad with Radeberger’s Pilsner
The charred corn salad from Colonia Verde is topped with cotija cheese, caramelized pepitas and mint and tossed in a cumin dressing. Some would say a Mexican-style pilsner would be best here, but I actually prefer a Radeberger Brewery’s pilsner. It’s old-school and straight from Germany, with a body that isn’t quite as crisp and a hop presence that’s spicier and more bitter than an American or Mexican pilsner. It’s going to take this salad right into the promised land.
Stuf’d Pulled Pork Sando with Lohn Bier’s Gose Salicórnia
Gose is the ultimate food pairing beer. It’s gently acidic, slightly salty and has just enough spice and malt to balance out anything. That means we can pair it with something big, bold and loud. Traveling all the way up from Brazil, Bier Brewery Lohn’s gose will give the saucy, sweet pulled pork sandwich from Stuf’d the anchor it needs, while cleaning and refreshing your taste buds after every bite.
Kronnerburger’s Kronnerburger with Jack’s Abby’s House Lager
Eating a burger with a lager is a tradition as old as time, so let’s honor that and keep things simple. Kronnerburger’s burger takes the burger elements you know and love and turns them all up to 11. Cheddar mayo. Tart pickles. Thick-slice tomato. And a patty that’s seasoned to perfection. We need a lager that shares that life approach, which is why Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers’ House Lager, brewed in Massachusetts, is the beer of choice, a balanced, meticulously crafted lager that’s familiar but impressive.
Cervo’s Lamb Burger with Goose Island’s Brasserie Blanc
The lamb burger from Cervo’s and its sister restaurant Hart’s is a glorious, fatty umami bomb that I love very much. You want to balance the gaminess of the lamb and the fishiness of the anchovies with something light in body and bright with acidity. Hailing from Chicago, Goose Island’s Brasserie Blanc hits the burger with a proper dose of acid from the wine barrels it was aged in and bright fruit from the grape juice.
Oddfellows’s Vanilla with Sand City’s Infinity Plus 2
Everyone and their mother will tell you to pair a stout or porter with ice cream. They’re not wrong, but there are more interesting pairings out there. Intensely aromatic, fruit-forward New England-style IPAs, such as Sand City Brewing Co.’s Infinity Plus 2, pair extremely well with simple, vanilla-based ice creams. Milkshake IPAs, whether you like them or not, are a thing for a reason: The flavors work.
Los Viajeros’ Fish Taco with Bocanegra’s Pils
A fried fish taco and a Mexican-style pilsner were destined to find each other. The crispy, fatty batter and the acid from the lime are begging to be washed over by endless waves of crisp, light, sun-soaked pilsner, and Mexico’s Cerveza Bocanegra brews one worthy of the grandest fish taco around.
Whatever Fries You See with Whatever Beer You’re Holding
French fries are the Serena Williams or the Meryl Streep or the LeBron James of the beer and food pairing game. They are the best at what they do. It does not matter what you’re drinking, where it’s from, or how weird it may be. Any beer will pair well with French fries. The crispier, fattier and saltier they happen to be, the better. I’ll leave you with this bit of advice: If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed in this extravaganza of flavor we call OctFest, just go for the fries. They will never let you, or your beer, down.