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Mar 2, 2004 05:00 PM

Thai Avenue.... Food & Beer tasting results

  • c

Ever since discovering the incredible matchup of Riesling / Gewurztraminer wines and thai food several years ago I've pretty much focused on those combinations whenever eating Thai.

In replies to various postings preferring a beer match I've often suggested trying a sweeter beer, specifically barleywine, with Thai food as opposed to a more "bitter" brew like Budweiser, etc. The theory being that a "sweeter" wine like Riesling matches IMHO the best with Thai, therefore a sweeter beer is likely to as well.

So a few days ago I decided to test this theory at a meal at Thai Avenue.

3 beers were tested (on a scale of "body"): 1) A "lightweight" summer beer: Konig-Ludwig Weisse (German) 2) A substantial pale ale: Alpha King India Pale Ale (U.S.) 3) A benchmark barleywine: Victory Old Horizontal. Each is a very well made product in it's category and together they represent a nice "scale" from the light weisse to the dark/rich/sweeter barleywine. Impressions follow:

BEER w/ PAD KRA POW: This dish was better prepared than our previous visit. Complaints: the dish was fairly heavily laden with "extras" like green pepper, carrot, etc. and did not feature real Thai basil and could have used a bit more pepper and garlic. This all said the overall taste was still very nice.

The Weisse match was "okay" with this dish, my companion noted "yes... it's her favorite". The Pale Ale was "kind of too bitter... so-so". her comments: "bitter..." As for the Barleywine: "not bad...a bit 'heavy and syrupy'...", her comments: "okay..." Later I did a re-test after noticing that barleywine and fish sauce have a certain affinity... "better with a dab of extra fish sauce..."

Overall our fave beer with the PKP was the light, lemony, fruity Weisse... the barleywine, especially with an extra dash of fish sauce was an acceptable "2nd place".

GRILLED PORK NECK. This interesting dish is a generous portion, served with a sauce of tamarind, cilantro, and toasted rice shavings.

The Weisse match: "Nice, spicy..." Pale Ale: "tastes somewhat better with this than with the PKP..." Barleywine: "... a strange taste combination...much better with a dip in fish sauce first..."

Our clear preference here was the Weisse again.

GRILLED ISSAN WHOLE SAUSAGE. This dish is served with ginger chunks & fresh pepper slices, my least favorite of the dishes overall. A little of this is okay but more than a couple small pieces isn't appealing.

The Weisse match comments: "...not really..." Pale Ale: "... much better with this..." Barleywine: "...okay... improved with fish sauce! "

Probably the overall fave with this dish was the India Pale Ale...

PAPAYA SALAD "SOM TOM THAI POO" (Full salad plus crab, peanuts, and dried shrimps). If you don't include the word "thai" you don't get the peanuts and dried shrimps so my translating companion advises. This dish was just superbly prepared, much better combined flavors than our previous visit but just HOT AS HADES... almost too hot, actually, and I have very high pepper tolerance.

With the Weisse and Pale Ale my comments were "okay"... with barleywine "okay, not great"... no match really stood out with Papaya Salad.

Overall, the qualities of the weisse matched best for us with this meal: the lightness, floral & lemon overtones of weisse were generally quite nice with the dishes. The barleywine was enhanced alot by the fish sauce and we'd recommend you try it. Overall I can't suggest drinking a pale ale with thai. It should be noted that Alpha King is a rich pale ale with subltle "sweet" overtones... somewhere on the scale between, say, Sierra Nevada (very dry and bitter) and Dreadnaught (very sweet)...

Regardless, the Weisse cannot begin to compare in Thai flavor matching to a fine Gewurztraminer or Riesling, not even close.... but I'm very glad we tried.

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  1. c
    Chicago Mike

    One clarification... I found that the Thai dishes amplified the "syrupy" character of barleywine quite a bit... to the point that the food and wine didn't mix very well. It's like the barleywine "coats" the food but retains it's "independent taste" and doesn't meld with the dish to form a "combined taste". In contrast the much thinner Weisse immediately did.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chicago Mike

      I'm just curious...did you do any testing with Thai beer? It would seem to be a natural. I'm not a beer drinker but I'm just saying....

      1. re: Steve Z
        Chicago Mike

        Steve said: I'm just curious...did you do any testing with Thai beer? It would seem to be a natural. I'm not a beer drinker but I'm just saying....

        No, unfortunately... my companion was constantly reminding me that we should have had a Singha there for comparison...

    2. d

      Very interesting report.

      I am also a big fine of Gewurtz & Riesling with Thai food.

      FWIW, I've also found that some sparklings work really well with Thai. The dryer stuff tends to work less well. Some Proseccos have paired wonderfully. And last time we ate at Opart we brought along a Moscato d'Asti that worked quite well.

      1. s

        "..a "sweeter" wine like Riesling matches IMHO the best with Thai"

        You must mean a sweeter "Riesling", because Riesling can often be a sweet wine, but most often can be a fairly dry to very dry wine.

        Many Rieslings from Alsace, Australia, Germany, Austria and Italy fall into the dry, very dry and "bone" dry fact there are several German producers that make "dry" wines from spaetlese and auslese "ripeness" levels and some who make sweet "kabinett" wines. These terms spaetlese, auslese, etc. have nothing to do with "sweetness", they describe "ripeness" which is the sugar weight at time of harvest, measured in degrees oeschlele. Sweetness is determined by the amount of "residual" sugar in the bottled wine, measured by grams per liter elsewhere and percentage by volume in the USA.

        To the question of sweet wine with Thai food, well yes, but most effectively with sweet dishes....if it is heat (from chilies) you are trying to temper, no wine sweet or any wine for that matter will counteract this (alcohol is a solvent and breaks down and disperses the capsaicin, fat and proteins block it's absorption). The concept that sweet beverages counter heat is a fallacy.

        Most Thai beers are lagers, just like Bud and I'll go with the regional preference every time, if Thai folks like lager beer with Thai food, then it makes sense to me to drink lager style beer.


        3 Replies
        1. re: stirs-the-pot

          Stirsy (I love that nickname) --

          It has been my personal experience that sweeter wines do in fact counteract the heat in Thai and other food. I agree, once you get to certain heat levels pretty much all wine is out. And if you just eat a chili straight up and then have some sweet wine, you're probably going to make matters worse. But at "medium" spicy levels I've found sweeter wines (including sweeter Rieslings -- good clarification about dry v. sweet Rieslings)do make a difference.

          If you're dealing with some serious heat and plan to sweat at your meal, aren't dairy-based drinks the way to go?

          1. re: Deflator_Mouse

            That's kinda what I said.....but I should have been clearer.

            "....fat and proteins block it's absorption." (capsaicin)

            So, things like orchata, liquados, milk, thai coffee will cool the heat.

            The higher the alcohol in a beverage the hotter the food will taste....conversely, spicy food can make wine, beer, booze will taste more alcoholic.

            Also, Thai, Indian and Szechan food all use several "hard shelled" spices which contain similar structures to wood tannin, these spices will make tannic wines seem more so and will make oaky nd tannic wines taste bitter.

            When matching a beverage to a food, the first rule of thumb is regionalism, i.e drink the beverage of the region with it's foods; crottin du Chavignol (aged Loire cheese) w/ Sancerre, Belgian beer w/ Moules frites, Chicago Hot dogs w/ Dad' or Filberts Root Beer, etc.

            When wine must be matched (by choice) with foods from a non-wine producing region, it's best to match texture and density or the wine to the food....delicate wines with delicate flavors, round wines (low acid) with round flavors, full bodied, dense wines with densely textured foods (thick NY steaks w/ napa cabernet), sharp, high aciad, angular wines wine with sharp flavors (dry riesling or sauvignon blanc w/ lime juicey som tum), rich wines with rich foods (sauternes w/ foie gras)....but sweetness is a matter of taste, sweet wine can be served with any food as long as the weight and body of the wine equal that of the food, however, sweet foods can only match well with sweet wines (preferably the wine should be sweeter than the food).

            Again, I will reiterate, that wines present themselves differently to different palates and this is where subjectivity comes into play....for example, I'm not very fond of Gerwurztraminer and Zinfandel, so they rarely work for me....I just choose something else.


          2. re: stirs-the-pot
            Chicago Mike

            To the question of sweet wine with Thai food, well yes, but most effectively with sweet dishes....if it is heat (from chilies) you are trying to temper, no wine sweet or any wine for that matter will counteract this (alcohol is a solvent and breaks down and disperses the capsaicin, fat and proteins block it's absorption). The concept that sweet beverages counter heat is a fallacy.

            I'm really not trying to counter-act heat by matching riesling with thai food. Just looking to ENHANCE FLAVOR. With this food/wine combo, the pepper fire "has a purpose" and is more enjoyable at all heat levels, IMO.

            Re: the sweetness issue... Riesling indeed flourishes in many parts of the world. The vast majority of that produced does indeed have a "sweet edge". That's the nature of the grape and the reason it finds its way into so many late-harvest and dessert-oriented wines. While very dry bottles will match spicy Thai dishes, you can go up the sweetness scale quite a ways and the match improves, IMO. Ditto for Gewurz... flinty, dry Gewurz is not nearly as interesting as a lusher/sweeter version with hot, spicy Thai (or indian dishes for that matter).

          3. Everyone, the Chicago board is solely for discussing food issues specific to Chicago. Please take this (interesting) discussion of general matching of Thai food and drink to our General Topics board, where many more people can enjoy and contribute to the discussion. Further postings here (other than "heads up" postings directing everyone to a continuation on General Topics) will be deleted.

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