Cravings are an interesting thing. While I’m sure there are scientific reasons behind them, they can seemingly creep up out of the blue, no matter how dicey the situation or inappropriate the circumstance.
Example: I’m putting my 16-month-old daughter to bed, and while I’m laying there reading her Goodnight Moon, my brain is telling me, “drop all your shit and get a Costco hot dog, NOW.” It didn’t matter that it was 9:30 at night and I’d already scarfed down a gaggle of chili dogs for dinner—I needed it, and my body yearned for it.
That’s essentially how this pairing came about. I’d like to say that I put some thought into this one in order to create a truly insightful, uncommon pairing, but nope—I was merely dicking around, playing Nekoatsume on my phone, when I suddenly thought, “hey, I could use a burger, and a complex beer sounds nice with that too!”
Hair of the Dog, Portland, OR
The storied beer Adam, from Portland mainstay Hair of the Dog, is dubbed a “Hearty Old World Ale” on the label, but it’s more reminiscent of a Belgian Dark Ale than anything. The aroma is precisely what you’d expect from a dark ale from the other side of the Atlantic: dark stone fruits, cloves, dry tobacco, and a smidgen of soy sauce at the end for good measure.
Despite the fruity nose, the taste is considerably drier, with a profile that transitions from bitter dark chocolate to burned grain (think an over-baked chocolate chunk cookie) into almost-overwhelming notes of tobacco and oak, topped off with slight hints of fusel. The tobacco transitions into a bitter, smoky finish that wrecks the palate—my mouth tastes like I’ve just smoked a cigarette after a swig of this beer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but previous experiences with Adam were a tad more balanced, which leads me to think this was an off bottle, possibly over-attenuated.
Even taking that into consideration, this is a solid beer, and a great, easily accessible example of a style that is almost criminally overlooked and underappreciated these days.
In-N-Out Burger, Heaven
As a born-and-bred Southern California resident, I’m intimately familiar with this legendary West Coast institution of meat-and-cheese-on-a-bun. You may think them overrated, a false idol in a region full of deluded, tasteless douchebags, but I couldn’t care less—In-N-Out Burger is fucking delicious, no matter what you say.
In front of me is their Double-Double, named thusly for containing two patties and two slices of cheese. I’ve opted to go Animal Style, which subs out the fresh onion for grilled, the regular patties for a mustard-grilled variety, and adds pickles and extra spread into the mix.
The best way to describe the quality behind an In-N-Out burger is balanced. You don’t get ginormous patties that clog your arteries just by looking at them, or piddling amounts of condiments on each burger. Their burgers are a perfect marriage of veg, meat, and cheese on a stellar toasted bun to create an amalgamation of fast food nirvana.
The Animal Style iteration takes that equation and swings a bit more to the savory side, thanks to the grilled onions and mustard patties. The tartness of the pickles does well to cut through the umami and bring it back to its balanced roots. All in all, a satisfying meal, and one that I could eat daily (which I did way back in college).
No matter how “uncommon” this pairing seems, conventional pairing wisdom states that dark meats, such as hamburgers, should pair perfectly with darker beers such as old ales.
This is a perfect example of why that long-believed adage is utter bullshit. Each of the elements involved create utter unbalanced culinary chaos on my palate.
The dry, leathery bitter finish of the beer makes that perfectly balanced burger stray into over-salted territory. Taking a swig and then biting into the burger transformed the cult favorite into a briney, salty mess, with sodium-soaked patties and sticky American cheese washing over my palate like the Dead Sea.
It’s not too fun on the other side either; drinking some of the beer post-burger amplifies all of the dark chocolate and oak notes into something more akin to unrefined cacao and fresh shoe leather. It honestly tastes like I just drank burned coffee out of a freshly made cowboy boot.
Overall, not a great success on the pairing front. My breath smells like I smoke regularly after a burger as some kind of post-coital culinary ritual. It’s safe to say that each product on its own is much more tolerable and enjoyable than the sum of its parts.