An accomplished culinarian with plenty of experience both pairing and cooking with a wide range of beer styles, Ramiro Guerra, the executive chef for Belching Beaver Brewery’s Tavern and Grill brewpub in Vista’s historic Old Town, doesn’t sugar-coat things. “I’m not going to lie, pairing food with big IPAs is really hard.”
In a day and age where craft beer, beer-and-food pairing, and IPAs of every ilk have become commonplace, particularly in San Diego County, it’s easy to fall under the misconception that every ale and lager style are a cinch to marry with food. That makes Guerra’s admission all the more refreshing. It also makes the fact that he managed to come through on a recent attempt at matching big flavors with a quartet of highly-hopped India pale ales all the more impressive, especially considering all four of those beers were combatants in the vaunted Alpha King Challenge.
Established in 1999, the Alpha King Challenge is an annual event that takes place in Denver in loose conjunction with the Great American Beef Festival. Drawing IPAs from across the country like a beery beacon, this competition seeks to identify the most delicious, balanced-yet-hop-heavy beer in the country. Professional brewers and beer writers comprise the judging panel, which has consistently singled out Guerra’s partner-in-crime, brewer Thomas Peters, for his entries.
He took first place in the challenge in 2014 with his Citra-heavy, Mosaic-forward triple IPA, Pound Town. That beer earned third place honors the following year. The success of that beer is phenomenal on its own, but it’s not the end of Peters’ story where this IBU melee is concerned. In 2017, he took the top spot for the second time with a 100% Citra-hopped double IPA dubbed Thizz Is What It is.
In late September, with the 2018 Alpha King Challenge days away, Peters decided to rebrew Pound Town and Thizz Is What It Is, and put them on tap along with a pair of entries for this year’s competition: a Simcoe-centric double IPA named Business Hippie (after a key member of Belching Beaver’s administrative staff) and a hazy double IPA brewed with New Zealand hop varietals called The Annihilatrix.
Guerra says he is constantly wowed with the variety of styles and depth of flavors coming from his brewpub, and tips his hat to Peters, but had to put his thinking cap on when asked to develop a quartet of dishes to pair with each of the aforementioned Alpha King contenders. In doing so, he went with a number of different methods for standing up to, pairing up with, and occasionally contrasting or taming the boldness of the hop-borne flavors in the beers.
With Pound Town, he chose a reliable recipe in his arsenal: curry. “Curries always work great with strong IPAs,” says Guerra, who went with curried lamb lollipops. To bring in another strong flavor, the floral nature of which he felt would work well with the hops’ botanical notes, he also served saffron-infused cauliflower “rice.”
Guerra opted for another spice-driven dish for Business Hippie: Cuban-style mojo pork. “The dish started with the pineapple and tropical fruit notes from the beer,” he says. “I went with sweet, but also spicy to hold up to the beer. Sweet and spicy go best with pork and goes hand-in-hand with tropical flavors, so mojo pork it was.” That zesty pork was served atop fried plantains (tostones) and accompanied by a zingy pineapple relish.
For the remaining pair of double IPAs, Guerra chose to take the road less traveled, pairing them with desserts. While carrot cake is a well-known foil for IPAs, he instead centered his dishes around ingredients he believed matched the flavors of the beers.
“When tasting Thizz Is What It Is, I got a lot of honeydew melon flavor after the bitterness subsided, so I wanted to do something cool with honeydew melons,” he says. “I came up with the idea to make a melon foam and serving it atop pound cake that had been grilled to create a taste sensation like that of burnt butter. To keep the dish from being dry, I added some of our house beer honey and it did the trick.”
Rounding things out nicely was a simple blini (a small pancake) served atop a fresh grapefruit base, and topped with buttercream frosting given citrus punch from a reduction of grapefruit juice and freshly grated zest. “The grapefruit flavors in The Annihilatrix screamed out at me, but savory flavors and grapefruit aren’t the easiest to put together, so I went the sweet route,” he says. “The blini is a great base and the cream cheese buttercream was a great way to sweeten the grapefruit essence.”
Four similarly composed hop behemoths, one daunting mission, and four rather varied dishes prove that, while not the easiest thing in the world, pairing food with even the brawniest of IPAs can be done. And to help readers do just that from the comfort of their homes, Guerra has shared his recipes for pork mojo tostones and grapefruit buttercream blinis. Cheers to embracing a hearty challenge and a boatload of IBUs.
Paired with Business Hippie Double IPA
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 5-pound pork shoulder roast
1 quart India pale ale (preferably Belching Beaver Hop Highway IPA)
1 quart rice wine vinegar
1½ cups orange juice
1 cup soy sauce
juice of 3 limes
½ white onion, chopped
15 garlic cloves
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
½ cup cilantro
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground paprika
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
Tostones (recipe follows)
Spicy Grilled Pineapple Relish (recipe follows)
Place the pork shoulder in a non-reactive, airtight vessel. Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the pork, making sure it is completely covered. Seal and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the pork shoulder from the brine and pat dry. Place in a roasting pan lined with banana leaves. Pour the brine into the pan until the pork is half-covered. Cover the pork with more banana leaves, then cover the pan with aluminum foil. Place in the oven and roast until the pork is fork tender, about 3 hours.
To serve, arrange several tostones on a plate. Top each of the tostones with pork and pineapple relish and serve immediately.
Yield: About 24 tostones
8 large green plantains
vegetable oil for frying
salt to taste
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Insert plantains and boil until soft, about 20 minutes. Peel and slice into 1-inch thick rounds. Use the flat end of a meat mallet to flatten the round to ½-inch thickness. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Place the plantain rounds into the skillet, 8 at a time, and fry until brown, about 3 minutes. Flip over the plantain to brown on the opposite side. Remove from the skillet and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Season with salt and serve.
Spicy Pineapple Relish
Yield: 6 cups
1 pineapple, stemmed, peeled, cored and diced
4 scallions, chopped
½ red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
½ jalapeño pepper, stemmed and diced
1 habanero pepper, stemmed and finely diced
1 shallot, minced
½ cup cilantro
½ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp seasoning salt
Thoroughly combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. Allow to reach room temperature before serving.
Blinis with Grapefruit Buttercream
Paired with The Annihilatrix Double IPA
Yield: 12 servings
4 cups milk
5 large eggs
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp baking soda
1/3 tsp salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup hot water
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 grapefruits, sliced lengthwise into thirds
Grapefruit Buttercream (recipe follows)
Beat the milk and eggs together until thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the sugar, lemon juice, baking soda and salt. Add the flour, water and oil and whisk together. The batter will be runny. Let rest for 20 minutes.
Melt a ½ tablespoon of butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Use a 2-ounce ladle to pour batter into the skillet. Cook until golden-brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and keep warm.
To serve, place a grapefruit round in the center of a dessert plate. Place a warm blini atop the grapefruit and top with a dollop of buttercream. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 cups
1 cup grapefruit juice
¾ pound cream cheese, room temperature
¼ pound unsalted butter
½ pound confectionery sugar
¾ Tbsp grapefruit zest
Place the grapefruit juice in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to ½ cup. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Cream the cream cheese, butter and sugar together using an electric mixer. Add the zest and grapefruit juice reduction, and mix until all of the ingredients are completely incorporated.
—Recipes courtesy Ramiro Guerra, Executive Chef, Belching Beaver Tavern & Grill