Pairings: Summit Unchained India Style Rye Ale and Chicken Tikka
By Tom // Posted 27 March, 2010 in: Food + Drink, Pairings, Recipes
A beer’s name doesn’t necessarily tell you what you should pair it with: a porter might not complement a porterhouse, and just because it’s a Kwak doesn’t mean you should eat it with duck. But happily, sometimes names make things easy; take India Pale Ales, which in the first word of their name make as good as a suggestion as you could hope for. Drink me with Indian food!
The affinity of Indian food as we know it in the West and India Pale Ales is no mistake — the beer and the cuisine grew up together. IPAs, distinctive above all for their extreme hoppiness, were first popularized among Britons working in India in the days of the British East India Company and the Raj, at least partially because the extra hops helped the beer survive shipment halfway across the world.
Indian food as most of us know it — the kind you get in Indian restaurants everywhere from London to your local strip mall — is also a product of the British presence in India, as Britons and their local cooks adapted Indian culinary traditions to suit the British palate — particularly the British taste for meat. You can bet that as these Brits and Indians worked to develop this new cuisine, they made sure it paired well with the beer that was most widely available — that is, India Pale Ale.
Popular though they may have been in India in the 18th century, I think it’s safe to say that IPAs are even bigger today — it seems like craft breweries are leaping over each other to bring out the next big IPA, and to see how many more hops they can cram in. The selection of IPAs in a decent liquor store can be pretty overwhelming. Looking for something a little bit different, I picked up a six pack of Summit’s latest addition to their Unchained series: an India Style Rye Ale — an IPA with rye thrown into the mix (an IRA if you will).
Summit’s IRA pours with very little head and is quite dark in color, reminding me of a brown ale. As the beer hits the tongue, the brown ale description continues to be apt: the first flavor note is a very strong roasted, caramel flavor. After that initial impression, the beer takes a turn into more traditional IPA territory; that is to say the hops hit and hit hard. I thought I detected a slight grassiness in the flavor from the rye, though that might well be the power of suggestion (a power that should not be underestimated in beer rating and pairing!). Although the beer poured with very little head, it had great carbonation, with little spritzy bubbles that danced across the tongue. Overall, this is an enjoyable, well balanced beer, provided you like hops. And if you’re drinking India Ales, that seems a safe assumption.
With India Style Ale in hand, all that was needed was some India Style Food. As a centerpiece for our meal, we turned to that mainstay of the Indian buffet: chicken tikka. Starting with a recipe from Bon Appétit (a practice I don’t normally recommend) I marinated a cut up whole chicken in yogurt, cilantro, salt, garam masala, and garlic. After an hour in this yogurt bath, I roasted the chicken pieces for about 40 minutes at 500ºF, until the meat was cooked through and the skin was starting to blacken. Following through on Bon Appétit’s full menu, Martha roasted carrots with oil, salt and cumin seeds, and I made raita and white rice. All these elements combine to make a fulfilling Indian food experience: moist and roasted-tasting meats and vegetables accented by warm and citrusy spices that fill the mouth, all cooled and brightened by the yogurt and cucumber in the raita. Comforting and enlivening at the same time, it’s the kind of food that could help you feel at home in a place a few thousand miles away from home.
Food like that, or a cold beer. Better yet – the two of them together. I had a hard time trying to explain intellectually why the India Style Rye Ale and the Chicken Tikka worked so well together; each seemed to tame and complete the other. Maybe it was the acid in the yogurt cutting through the hops’ bitterness, or maybe the fact that the big flavors of the beer were a match for the big spice flavors in the chicken. Perhaps the beer’s roasted malts found their soulmate in blackened chicken skin. None of these elements really suffice in explaining what made this combination so satisfying. Ultimately, their affinity may owe to their shared history; a few gulps and bites might be enough to express the perfection of 200 years of codevelopment, but they are probably not enough to understand it. I’d better do this again.