“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”
“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Does anyone really know what the question is? After all, “Life, the Universe and Everything,” isn’t really a question; it could even be the answer. If, for instance, the question were, “what’s the catchiest way to describe all that exists?” Douglas Adams definitely provided an answer.
As the Depraved Artist notes in his post, “More food and beer – fatalism, pale ale, and Pizza,” pizza also seems to be “an answer in search of a question, a giant interrogative in the collective ether of three continents; something that was created for one purpose; to be paired with beer.”
Last week, I posted “Pairing Beer with Food is Wrong,” introducing an epic quest to find the one food that pairs perfectly with beer, rather than the other way ‘round. Like this one, it was a collaboration between the Depraved Artist and the Hoppy Half-Pint, each of us publishing our take on the subject. His is grittier, NSFW, and absolutely worth a read.
Pizza is such a no-brainer, eat-with-beer choice that we just had to test its claim to the throne. For this experiment, we gathered a generic (Costco) pepperoni pizza, and four well-made beers to try with it.
This award-winning “Strong Pale Ale” isn’t exactly common here, but you can occasionally find it. We did. At 4.3% ABV, I wouldn’t exactly call it strong, but whatever. A classic English pale, it’s got a significant hop presence, backed up with plenty of malt. The nose is Maris Otter and English hops, probably Fuggles. Much of the time, imported British beers are disappointingly oxidized, but this bottle tasted fresh. To quote my compatriot, “…it tastes of treacle, toffee, blackstrap and bread pudding….”
Classic English beer, with classic American pub food. Seems like they’d be friends, right? Not so much. After the pizza, the Landlord seems a tad sweeter, but the hops are also bitterer and harsher; the delicate flavors of both hops and malt are gone, sublimated by a burnt character from the pizza. For Timothy Taylor, this is not the food you’re looking for.
Unlike some of its counterparts (I’m lookin’ at you, Left Hand), Stone’s version of a milk stout is not especially sweet. Naturally, the nose and flavor are full of cocoa and coffee notes. There’s a touch of cream in the flavor, without the residual sweetness of an Imperial Stout.
The pizza brings out the milky sweetness, and also mellows some of the harsher roast character. In turn, the stout smooths out the burnt flavors in the pizza (I may have had to reheat it in the oven), making it more pleasant. Not a bad pairing, though I bet there’s something better out there for this stout.
Gulden Draak 9000
This stuff is like a Belgian “Pow! Right in the kisser!” Banana, cloves, peppery notes, raisins, maybe dates, and an almost date sugar note, probably candi sugar. I’ve probably been guilty of this, but the generic descriptor, ‘stone fruit,’ is lame. As Depraved Artist puts it, “Douchy people would say ‘stone fruit’, to which I would reply, Oh, you mean avocado? Peach? Apricot? Just eat some more fruit so you know what it tastes like, losers.”
Post-pizza, Gulden Draak is sweet, alcoholic, effervescent, full of body, but it loses most of its complexity. Bye-bye, delicate dried fruit and spice flavors—except the banana. That ester’s got staying power.
I should declare ‘nuff said, and stop here. But I’m a wordy writer-type, so I won’t. Obviously, this classic, style-defining West Coast Pale is delicious, with or without pizza. Once upon a time, in a land far away, this was an inexpensive choice available at the pizza place closest to my house. Heck, over there, SNPA is still standard fare when the available beer selection leaves something to be desired. Funny thing, that, since it’s one of the best pale ales I’ve ever tasted.
Anyhow, SNPA is the least affected by the pizza, as I thought it might be. It’s still delightfully hoppy, and if the pizza enhances the perception of sweetness a touch, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
So, is it the one?
Nope. Pizza will continue to be consumed with beer until the earth is destroyed by Vogons to make room for a hyperspace bypass, but our search continues for the perfect food to pair with beer.
Salt makes it sweet
With all of the beers, the pizza enhanced the sweet flavors. This is probably due to the saltiness; salt suppresses acidic flavors in food, increasing the perception of sweetness. So if you don’t really dig the taste of hops in an IPA, or the roast bitterness in stout, try them with pizza. You may be pleasantly surprised at the way it smooths out the beer. Just be aware that it will probably also subdue the more delicate character of the hops.
Adams, Douglas. “Chapter 28.” In The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 121. Complete and Unabridged ed. New York, New York: Portland House, 1997.
“Landlord.” Timothy Taylor’s. Accessed November 16, 2015.
Red Riding Hoodwinked. Directed by Friz Freleng. Performed by Mel Blanc, June Foray, et al. USA: Warner Bros., 1955. Film.
Troy, Eric. “Why Does a Little Salt Make Sweet Foods Taste Sweeter?” Culinary Lore. October 24, 2014. Accessed November 16, 2015.