Don’t take that to mean that there are no right or wrong answers, however. Especially when trying to find a perfect match for the savory and sweet flavors of barbecue, where a cherished red wine can end up fumbling awkwardly with a slab of ribs like two nervous junior-high kids during their first slow dance.
Contrast is the key for barbecue, and that is particularly true for beers, according to Zach Prichard, president of Choc Beer Company, based in Krebs.
“For barbecue, it is best to have a big and dry beer,” Prichard said. “The beer needs to be bold enough to not be lost in the smoke and sweetness of the barbecue. At the same time, it needs to finish dry so that it quenches your thirst in the warm weather.”
Prichard said Choc’s Basement Batch pale ale fulfills both of those needs. “It has a strong caramel malt backbone and generous hop additions,” he said. “This beer can stand up to the intense flavors barbecue is known for.”
During a recent afternoon grilling session, I put Prichard’s claim to the test. With a selection of beers featuring everything from rich and malty marzen, an Oktoberfeststyle of beer, to dark porters and zesty hefeweizens, it was Choc’s Basement Batch pale ale that held its own best against the savory meats. One drinker that normally detested the pronounced hops of a pale ale fell in love with the pairing and polished off a bottle in no time.
The pale ale filled its role as a sharp counterpoint that enhanced the taste of the food, but on its own, it might be a bit bracing to some. An Abbey-style ale, on the other hand, fills the palate with a sweet complexity when consumed alone, but the nuances of the caramelized sugars get lost when competing with the strong tastes of barbecue.
To further test the theory that barbecue needs to spar, not dance, with one’s drink of choice, I sampled the Sailor Jerry spiced rum that was also used to make the barbecue sauce. The sweet burn of the rum couldn’t stay afloat amidst the tangy sauce, and left me wishing for something to cleanse the palate.
And then it was on to wine. I’d brought a bottle of Mollydooker’s The Boxer Shiraz as my ace in the hole. Prior to the happening, I’d read that Shiraz and Zinfandel were reds particularly well-suited to pairing with grilled meat. The Boxer is my favorite red (and can be found for $29.99 at Joe’s Place Fine Wine & Spirits, 1330 E. Alameda in Norman), so I thought I was set.Instead, the velvety chocolate smoothness of the Shiraz — while great on its own — was overpowered by the meat and seemed out of step.
The surprising standout in the wine category was the Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, $13.99 at Coffee Creek Wine Shop, 775 W. Covell in Edmond. Bright and citrusy, but without an off-putting sweetness, the wine stood up like a champion to the savory selection of ribs and even a particularly spicy bratwurst.
Finally, coming in as the dark horse of the competition was Bud Light Lime. Beer with 3.2 percent alcohol doesn’t usually register on my radar, but I was impressed that the light pilsner did an admirable job quenching the thirst at the tail end of a chili cheese dog scarfed down while supervising a herd of children careening down a Slip ’n Slide on the brutally hot summer day.
So it turns out the critics are right on this one. Pairing should be done with an open mind and without rules, since the right answer sometimes can come in the form of a gas station longneck.