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matching alcohol with spicy foods?

this is a difficult topic to search, but i couldn't turn up anything, so: what spirits, wines, or beers do you hounds quaff with spicy food?

for example, i've read that rieslings are recommended. true? false? other ideas?

for what it's worth, the cuisine in question is szechuan, but broader responses are welcome!

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  1. I don't know if you'd have better luck on the booze-specific boards, but here are my thoughts: sweeter wines like rieslings and gewurtztraminers are traditionally recommended. But. Belgian beers (sour ales, saisons, and old-style lambics especially, but also ordinary witbiers) work really well with both spicy and rich foods, IME. So do sparkling wines, particularly those of the reliable and inexpensive cava and prosecco types! :) Not being much of a fan of sweeter wines (or of fruity wines generally), and having neither the budget nor much of an inclination to explore more sophisticated rieslings and the like, I am much quicker to turn to a saison or a prosecco when faced with a tough-to-pair food.

    1. One of the best wines with spicy foods are Rieslings. not the cheap sweet ones . Good German /Alsace Rieslings.

      Here are some under 25
      Weingut St. Urbans-Hof
      2007 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett
      Mosel, Germany

      2007 Riesling, Grand Cru, Steinklotz
      Alsace, France

      2005 Dry Riesling
      Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, CA

      Also IMO Pale Ales and IPAs work great with spicy food

      My personal favorites
      Stone Pale Ale
      Stone IPA
      Sweet Water 420
      Serra Nevada IPA ....

      I could go on and on and on

      2 Replies
      1. re: chris2269

        Definitely go with a nice hoppy India Pale Ale if you are going with beer. I've read that the hop resin counteracts the effects of the capsaicin. I like to pair a Bell's Two Hearted with a spicy Thai curry, makes a great balance.

        1. re: ChipDipson

          Although I certainly question the "hop resin" theory, I do enjoy West Coast IPA's with well-balanced, spicy Asian foods. I think the pairing works, however, only in part to the capsaicin element. It is the floral qualities expressed by many of the dishes that are best matched to overt hoppiness.

          As you will see from the following thread, there are certainly knowledgeable and well-articulated dissenters from the suggestion:


      2. For wines young whites specifically but not exclusively Riesling, Gewürztraminer & some Ehrenfelser.

        1. I can tell you what to stay away from - higher alcohol dry drinks. We eat a fair amount of spicy food, and we usually drink wine or beer with our food (occasionally a mixed drink), and we've found that higher alcohol wines that are dry can give spicy food a huge super boost. I surmise that the residual alcohol acts as a solvent and readily releases the capsaicin. We can tolerate this with most foods, but since you mentioned Sichuan cuisine, that is one that comes to mind that really gave me a jolt when first pairing the two together. Sichuan cuisine in general is at a different heat level than most other foods. We were drinking a semi-dry Alsatian Riesling with an alcohol content of around 13.5% and my mouth exploded. I sampled this again and same result. We now only limit alcohol to beer, sweetish lower-alcohol wines and sparkling rosé with the really spicy stuff. I think around 11% is the limit before crossing the threshhold. IMHO, the dry/semi-dry wine recs already given can apply to less potent spicy foods.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bulavinaka

            Ive noticed this as well. Drinks with high alcohol content often intensify the heat from spicy dishes.

            1. I'm not a big fan of the style, but I've found that a quality white zinfandel matches up pretty well with many spicy dishes. Unfortunately it is difficult to find one with the barest hint of sweetness, around 11 to 12% alcohol and with some zin character extracted. Don't even look at the soda pop made by the big boys.
              The cava/prosecco suggestion got me thinking about the above And that a 'extra dry' blanc de noir sparkler would be good for consideration.

              5 Replies
              1. re: DiveFan

                I'm really seriously interested in what you'd consider a "quality White Zinfandel". I don't drink them any more but have no problem with others enjoying them. Are you singling out Beringer or Sutter Home as 'quality'? At one point there was a discussion here about a few White Zins being produced by 'real' quality wineries back before Sutter Home made them so popular. I don't think I've been aware of any with "the barest hint of sweetness" since then.

                1. re: DiveFan

                  "Are you singling out Beringer or Sutter Home as 'quality'?"
                  Heck NO! Their WZ's are noticeably sweet, bland, IIRC usually less than 11% alcohol. Gallo and other bulk producers often stop fermentation below 10%, a sign of high residual sugar.

                  Sorry I don't have a short list of small producers whom I would recommend - when I fancy one I just use the above limits, darker rose' color and avoid the national brands. I would look for grapes grown in cooler microclimates - usually less sugar to deal with.

                  1. re: DiveFan

                    I'm really curious because "high quality White Zin" is usually thought of as an oxymoron. But, as I said, I recall some rather good ones (more like a rose more than likely), maybe 20+ years ago. I have nbo recollection of specific alcohol content.

                    1. re: Midlife

                      The Gemello Winery in Santa Clara (now defunct, I'm sure) made a delightfully crisp and dry zinfandel rosé when I lived around there '67-'74. So when the white zins came out I got all excited, then gravely disappointed.

                      There's a Chinese-Vietnamese seafood restaurant we like that sells Fischer, an Alsatian beer. We didn't get anything terrifically spicy the night we had that, because our French sister-in-law has a limited tolerance for such things, but I think it would go very nicely. The northern European beers of Germany and Denmark, with their lemony top-notes, I think would be even better. Sierra Nevada IPA would be tasty enough, but its lovely bitterness keeps it from being very thirst-quenching, and then there's the alcohol.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        There are some nice Italian and Spanish rosés that go well with spicy Chinese and Indian food - especially like grenache rosé for this - if we're not drinking Sylvaner or Pinot Blanc, or beer.

                2. Drink tea or water.

                  If you must, rice wine/spirits or sake.

                  1. With Szechuan, consider the pinot family. That's particular to the types of flavors in that cuisine, though. For really fiery, burn your mouth stuff, the standard advice holds true.

                    1. I would highly recommend a white wine from Mendoza in Argentina made from the Torrontes grape. This wine is aromatic and fairly fruit forward w peach, lychee and apricot flavours.

                      We especially love Torrontes w Thai and Szechuan food.


                      For spicy barbecue, I'd recommend Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat beer which is terrific, especially w pork.

                      Of course Corona is another well-known choice for spicy pairings too.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Breadcrumbs

                        Torrontes is a wine I've always considered to be 'Gewurtztraminer lite'-nice enough but indistinct.

                        Corona of course has the dubious distinction of being the second worst beer in Mexico.

                        1. re: Sam Salmon

                          Interesting what you say about Corona, Sam. So what would be the worst beer in Mexico?
                          I find that Bohemia is one of the better ones.

                          1. re: Tripeler

                            My vote for Worst Mexican beer is Sol-completely undistinguished is a polite term for that swill.

                          2. re: Sam Salmon

                            Well Corona is certainly a very mild and rather uninteresting beer taste, but how does that make it "bad"?

                            1. re: Midlife

                              What makes Corona "bad" is the same thing that makes Twinkies "bad" -- the ingredients. Generally speaking, adjunct lagers (i.e. ones made with rice and/or corn because they're cheaper than barley and wheat) use pre-processed grains and hops, plus take brewing shortcuts to get to the end product, which they can then sell cheaply to be consumed ice-cold with a lime! :) And there is a place for those types of beers, but craft and traditionally-brewed beers are made with higher-quality ingredients and no shortcuts, so I would definitely feel comfortable rating a Corona as "worse" than, say, a Belgian witbier or a German Kolsch, just given ingredients. I mean, de gustibus and all that -- it's not a moral judgment or anything, just an observation about ingredients and method, IMO.

                              In the end, if you're craving a Twinkie, I can't make you have a slice of this lovely homemade vanilla sponge layer cake filled with creme bavaroise, but I think most of us would agree that the Twinkie is not quite as good. ;)

                              1. re: LauraGrace

                                Had a vanilla cake with a rich cream frosting the other night with a Ten Fidy Imp Stout (in the can no less) - I liked it. A Twinkie? Hmmm - maybe a Yoohoo?

                                I'm not one to knock beers with rice in them - I like the Asian brews as well and many are typically brew with rice. I think those beers pair with much of the cuisines very well. However, I have to admit - if I've been on a long streak of drinking US craft brews or the more appreciated stuff from Europe, taking a swig of a Koshi Hikari Echigo does throw me off.

                              2. re: Midlife

                                If you are going to be spending 8-9 bucks on the markup of an "Import" (Corona is in the midst of being acquired 100% by InBev) why not direct your money toward a superior product made in your region. By now most people can find a quality beer made in their state, or at least in the surrounding ones... Sorry this is all off topic.

                          3. Pretention aside, all wines and beers go with all food. Choose what you like.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: beevod

                              I agree that preference is probably the first consideration when choosing what to drink with dinner (see for example the margarita I had with my Indian food last night), but I don't think it's pretension to put more thought into matching the flavors of the food with a complementary flavor of beverage, anymore than it's pretentious to attempt to match the flavors of your main course with the flavors of a side dish. Can you eat creamy mashed potatoes with ma po tofu? Probably, but it might not be the *best* pairing. KWIM?

                              1. re: beevod

                                Better advice from Banfi:

                                "Tannin and fish oil represent one of the strongest chemical reactions in the food and wine pairing kingdom. Tannin is a bitter, astringent compound found in all red wines and in white wines that have spent time in wood. It combines chemically with fish oil, in the presence of alcohol and salt, to create a bitter, metallic taste on the palate. When tannin (in wine) and fish oil (in fish) come together, the wine ends up tasting like copper or aluminum foil and the fish tastes fishy.

                                "Naturally, the oilier the fish and the more tannic the wine, the worse the reaction. It has nothing to do with the color of the wine. An over-oaked chardonnay when paired with seafood, can give you a bad case of metal mouth. Conversely, a lightly tannic red such as Placido Primavera Sangiovese, can work perfectly with sea fare.

                                1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                                  fascinating; thanks! a friend had this very experience with a dry pot fish the last time we ate at this restaurant and we were all very confused by it.

                                2. re: beevod

                                  that's ... unhelpful. as others have correctly and easily inferred, the point of my question is to figure out what alcohols go well with spicy food without inducing further pain.

                                  1. re: coookie

                                    As most of the people above have inferred, "dry" beverages are probably going to boost the heat factor. Big tannic reds that would work with a rib-eye or rack of lamb are probably going to blow your head off if you're eating something spicy. Any drink that is somewhat astringent (tannic) is probably going to hurt more than help.

                                    Fruity wines or frothy belgian-style beers (saison, witte, weiss, abbey, etc) will probably work better. Fruity doesn't necessarily mean sweet, but I would lean towards whites over reds, because even slightly tannic wine can amplify the heat.

                                    I have no scientific knowledge why, only painful, painful experience due to the fact that I like spicy food and tend to favor reds over whites/roses. :-/

                                    1. re: egit

                                      While that does sound right I've often seen the suggestion of full-bodied reds (like Zinfandel or Petite Sirah) with spicy food as an alternative top sweet wines. The wisdom there is that the wine should either counter the food's heat (sweet) or be able to go along with it (heavy red). The problem for me is that, if the food is really spicy, my taste buds are dulled so much that only an inexpensive sweet white seems to make any sense.

                                      1. re: egit

                                        I normally have a tannic red alongside hot curries, to no ill effect.

                                        Scientific and wine knowledge aside, I agree with cookie — choose what you like. I cannot stand sweeter wines, and rarely find whites palatable.

                                  2. Milk or beer. For example - one of those Thai iced teas with condensed/evaporated/etc milk is great to cut the heat of a hot curry.

                                    1. Haven't seen this one mentioned yet: hard cider. I find it pairs beautifully with vindaloos and other spicy Indian dishes. The slight sweetness sets off the heat nicely, and the low alcohol content (compared to wine) makes it easy to quaff.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: BobB

                                        Good point Bob-been wondering about ciders as food accompaniment as we're starting to see some nice ones produced here in BC-Thanks.

                                      2. I like wine but hot and spicy food generally call for a decent dark beer. I keep a case around as a foil for spicy chinese, mexican etc. Usually there is a local all purpose dark beer around, bock is available this time of year, Negra Modelo, "Blackend Voodoo" is a great natural match with spicy cajun etc etc.

                                        1. Low alcohol (alcohol can amplify the spicy qualities) and a bit of sweetness (which often goes well with spicy foods that aren't already intrinsically sweet).

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: limster

                                            We are thinking alike, limster. See my post just above.

                                            1. re: BobB

                                              Yeah - cool! With Sichuan, something vaguely citrusy might also match the Sichuan peppercorn well.

                                          2. I find that a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with spicy foods. Just enough grapefruit to cut thru the spice and a slight passion fruit to complement the flavors :):)

                                            1. I'm a huge fan of off-dry, aromatic white wines with spicy food, particularly Southeast Asian.

                                              But sometimes I prefer a dry wine that goes well with anything from Spanish to Indian to Mexican ... and so I give you (cue the Ricardo broken-record always-recommending-that-wine music): R. LOPEZ DE HEREDIA VINA TONDONIA GRAN RESERVA ROSADO!!!