Fire Up #IPADay with a Spicy Pairing!

Jennifer and the CIAAs a brewer and self-proclaimed foodie, one of my favorite things to do is pair our beers with food and I know I’m not alone. In fact, many brewers have a theory about pairing IPAs with food: the bitterness in hops affects the heat in spicy food.

To celebrate IPA Day (Thursday, August 6), we put this theory to the test and I joined the awesome culinary professionals at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y. to “study” this theory. My excitement level was off the charts to conduct an official sensory experiment with food experts.  If tests at school had been this fun, I’d be back in a heartbeat!

How We Did It: The Taste Panel & Sample Ballot

At the CIA, we tested this theory using an easy method and delicious materials. We tasted the three West Coast-style IPAs in our Rebel family – Rebel IPA, Rebel Rider Session IPA, and Rebel Rouser Double IPA – alongside a single recipe of Buffalo wings. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.

Our IPA and wing tasting panel included talented chefs and culinary experts including Douglass Miller, Professor of Hospitality and Service Management; Chef Dave McCue, Associate Professor of Culinary Arts and a homebrewer; Chef Thomas Vaccaro, Dean of Baking and Pastry Arts; and Chef Jonathan Zearfoss, Professor of Culinary Science. Chef David Kamen led the panel discussion, helping us stay focused on the task at hand.

We used a ballot instructing panelists to taste each sample, rate the spiciness, and include

comments (see my chicken scratch ballot). Beers were tasted in ascending order by

International Bitterness Units (IBUs) and alcohol content (ABV) starting with Rebel Rider, then Rebel IPA, and finally Rebel Rouser. For each sample, we rated the intensity of the spiciness of the chicken wings on a scale of 0-9 where 0 is not at all spicy and 9 is extremely spicy (like Ghost Pepper crazy spicy) and included our comments.

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The Results of our Delicious Study:

It was incredible to see how three beers that are similar in style produced such diverse flavor and heat interactions with the Buffalo wings. As Chef McCue so eloquently described it, “It’s the same meat, but different heat!”

The panelists concluded that together – we brewers are onto something… The greater IBUs and higher ABV does increase how taste buds perceive spiciness. However, our palate’s perception of “heat” depends on other characteristics in a beer, like the hops, malt and alcohol content. Here’s what we found:

  • Rebel Rouser Double IPA (8.4% ABV/85 IBUs) produced far and away the highest spice rating and dramatically increased the heat intensity of the pairing. The panelists summarized that this pairing was very complex and may be overwhelming the casual beer drinker and wing eater but perfect for hop heads and spicy food enthusiasts.
  • Rebel Rider Session IPA (4.5% ABV/45 IBUs), with its lighter body and lower alcohol content, allowed the beer and wings to complement each other. Panelists also noted an increase in heat or a longer lasting heat from this pairing compared to the other brews as well as a refreshing interplay between the piney, citrus hop notes in the beer and spiciness of the wings.
  • Rebel IPA (6.5% ABV/45 IBUs), which showcases a balance of malt and hop flavor rather than aggressive bitterness, managed to subtly decrease the spiciness of the wings while accentuating the sweet, meaty taste of the chicken. This pairing was considered the most well-rounded and perfect for all craft beer lovers and buffalo wing eaters.

There are days where I can’t believe how awesome my job is, and the day I spent “working” with everyone at the CIA was one of them. Thanks to the CIA for joining in on the fun and cheers to celebrating IPA Day!

To conduct your own taste test, we used a Buffalo Chicken Wing Recipe courtesy of Cooking District and check out our Find a Sam page to find Rebel IPA, Rebel Rider Session IPA and Rebel Rouser Double IPA near you.

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