Potato chips and beer are a no-brainer combo that we've all enjoyed, right? We recently took that combo to the next (beer geeky) level exploring the Kettle Chips pairings that had come to our attention.
As it turned out the nearby Plaid Pantry had five of the seven varieties on the pairing sheet and were conveniently offering them at 2/$2.50. After grabbing the five from the sheet and throwing in Buffalo Bleu for good measure, and to get to six bags, we were off to meet up with a veteran pairing friend (he's been along for the ride for Girl Scout cookies, Halloween candy and breakfast cereal) at our favorite watering hole.
Each pairing had both a general recommended beer style as well as specific beers named. It came as no surprise that the specific beers mentioned weren't necessarily available in our market but it was nice to see that they were spread out across the country (Cigar City, Bell's and Deschutes to name a few). With that in mind we knew we'd have to use our own judgment if none of the specific ones mentioned were available or if they were beers we simply would prefer not to drink (which shall remain nameless).
Per our usual pattern we opted to start off with the pairing that had the mildest beer which was Sea Salt & Vinegar with ESB. Chris grabbed a Fuller's ESB and although fine with the chips, neither really did anything to enhance the other. As we continued we went back to those chips with other beers, finding that Arch Rock Gold Beach Lager was the best of our selections and that Sam Smith Organic Lager was also a good choice although it managed to cancel out most of the vinegar flavor of the chips.
Up next was Honey Dijon, suggested to be paired with a brown ale/nut brown ale, for which we went with AleSmith Nut Brown. Nothing amazing there but going back to the recently opened Fuller's ESB we were pleasantly surprised with the result, the Dijon providing enough kick to keep the ESB from being cloying.
Chip #3 was Backyard Barbeque for which an American IPA was suggested. All of us being IPA fans, we tried out multiple ones - Block 15 Sticky Hands, Claim 52 Fluffy IPA, Lagunitas Hop Stoopid - as well as the Ale Smith Nut Brown, both previously mentioned lagers and Sam Smith Taddy Oatmeal Stout. The standouts were Sam Smith Lager, which allowed some nice smoke from the chips to come out in the front, and Block 15 Sticky Hands, a powerful beer that was well matched with the powerfully flavored chip.
Passing the halfway point of the pairing it's safe to say we were starting to get the feeling we'd be salt-logged the next day but were having too much fun to quit. The Jalapeno chips were also recommended to go with an American IPA. Both the Sticky Hands and Sam Smith paired very nicely, with the latter's sweetness mellowed by the bite of the chip. Personally I'd have easily downed a pitcher of the beer and a couple bags of chips. Also acceptable pairings were Gold Beach Lager and Hop Stoopid, a big beer that the chips helped to keep in check my consumption of by intensifying the hop bite - not something for everyone.
Down to the final pairing from the sheet, Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper with an American Pale Ale, it appears from my notes that we realized we already had plenty of beers open and no pale ales available that we really loved. Therefore we went back through what we had open with Chris commenting that overall this was the best chip to pair with a variety of beers. Sam Smith Lager, as with Jalapeno, had its sweetness balanced by the Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper.
Finally we were down to the "wild card" chip - Buffalo Bleu. A wonderfully intensely flavored chip, it was well matched with Sticky Hands and went surprisingly well with ESB and Gold Beach Lager. I had been concerned that the chips would bring forward too much sweetness from the ESB but to the contrary it actually brought out the bitterness in it quite pleasingly. In the case of Gold Beach Lager my concern was that it would be overpowered by the chips, but no, it simply mellowed some of the lager characteristics and was easily one of my favorite pairings. I could see this combo being a great accompaniment to any brew day or BBQ-ing.
In the end it was another fun way to play with beer and food and I'm thankful to my tasting partners as well as the friends that helped us finish off all the chips. It spawned a related idea, a Crunchy Salty Snack Bracket, that if we go through with it will include things like Combos, Snyders pretzel bites, Gardettos, Cheetos, Funyons and all manner of horrible-for-you, salty, deep fried goodness. Please don't tell our doctors about this.
WARNING: Attempts at conducting a similar pairing may result in a salt hangover. It is a real thing. Proceed with caution and at your own risk.