I love hot food and I love beer and more often than not I drink beer when I am eating spicy food. BUT, contrary to popular opinion/practice swilling large quantities of beer does NOT help with extreme heat from things like Habanero peppers (or Thai Dragon or anything else that high on the Scoville scale- I don’t even bother with Ghost or Scorpion peppers- I can’t taste anything through the pain).
So what do you do when the heat gets the better of you and you already know that chugging the pitcher of beer just won’t help? Well, when you need to put out the fire, dairy products are best- hence the popularity of bleu cheese dip with hot wings (the celery is more or less only a means of delivery). Milk and yogurt are also very good at neutralizing heat. Bread or dry crackers like Saltines are also good in this role.
This is not to say that beer can’t still be tasty to drink along with such volcanic dishes (like the wings from my previous column), so long as you understand that it will not really help dampen the fire. If you are with me so far then the next problem that confronts us is which beer to pair with that habanero mash or five alarm chili?
To my mind, when it comes to fiery concoctions only BIG beers are up to the test. Dopplebocks, DIPA’s, RIS, Barely Wines and even the occasional Belgian Quad all have enough flavor to add to the taste experience as opposed to getting lost as an ordinary lager or pilsner might. Even many ales evaporate when facing such extreme heat.
My favorite paring is to use a BIG Imperial (or Double if your prefer) IPA like The Maharajah by Avery. This beast of a beer is loaded with hops (100-110 IBU’s) yet also super malty. It is so strong in flavor and alcohol (11%) that it would completely overwhelm your average pasta dish or salad. But when paired with my Jumbo Smoked Wings with Habanero Mash, the “unstoppable force” meets the “unmovable object” and bliss ensues.
If your palate (and stomach) are up to a real challenge, give this duet a try.