Hops can make spicy foods spicier. Roasted malts complement the sweet tang of barbecue sauce. And coriander? It pairs perfectly with Mexican food.
Smashburger, the fast casual chain that began on South Colorado Boulevard and has expanded to around 160 locations in 27 states in just five years, has introduced burger-and-beer parings at a few of its sixteen Colorado stores this month and will roll out the menu across the rest of the state over the next few weeks.
To do it, the company teamed up with Fort Collins-based New Belgium Brewing, the largest craft beer maker in the state and third largest nationwide. Specifically, it harnessed the abilities of New Belgium's "sensory specialist,"Lauren Salazar.
Picking a favorite brewer was like picking a favorite child, Ryan explained Thursday during an event designed to test the new menu. "But New Belgium, we felt, reflects the same innovative spirit, the same quality and the same passion that we have.
"Lauren and I drank about four cases of beer to get this done," he joked.
The menu features seven burgers and two chicken sandwiches that have been paired specifically with five different New Belgium beers based on the flavor profiles of each. Smashburger is one of the only fast-casual chains to push beer pairings to this extent. The company plans to pair its burgers with beers from local breweries in other states as well. For instance, it will work with Chicago's Goose Island Brewing in Illinois.
"This brings to light that beer is getting much much more interesting. We like to localize the menu in every state, and one of the things we want to localize is beer," he added.
The New Belgium partnership means that Smashburger's Colorado locations will only serve bottles and cans of New Belgium beers for the most part (although Ryan said individual stores can choose to carry other brands as well). That's a coup for the beer maker, which is always looking to increase the number of tap handles it controls.
It also gave Salazar a chance to showcase the subtleties in New Belgium's lineup. "What I love is that Tom really cares," she said. "We went back into the kitchen, and it was great to see the passion he has for ingredients...for where they were sourced."
Here is a breakdown of six of the new menu pairings and Salazar's comments on each.
Burger: Truffle Mushroom Swiss Beer: Fat Tire Amber Ale The herbal, spicy notes from Fat Tire's hops help to highlight the earthy mushrooms.
Burger: BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar Beer: 1554 Black Ale (this beer is actually a lager) Dark in color, but light and crisp in feel, 1554 has both sweet and roasty notes similar to the barbecue, but the two elements find each other without drowning the other one out.
Burger: Colorado Burger (green chiles, pepperjack cheese) Beer: Ranger IPA This spicy burger needs a beer that can handle it, and the bitter, resinous part of the Simcoe hops help to amp up the heat rather than muting it.
Burger: Spicy Baja Burger (pepperjack cheese, jalapeno peppers, guacamole) Beer: Sunshine Wheat The beer is made with a "boatload" of coriander (the seeds from the cilantro plant) and has an almost lemony taste. Both of these flavors typically pair well with Mexican food. "The beer lends a helping hand rather than taking a back seat."
Sandwich: Spinach and Goat Cheese Chicken Beer: Shift Pale Lager This sandwich features tangy goat cheese, but it was the cucumber in it that makes it work with Shift. Cucumber is one of the few foods that acts as a palate cleanser, which works well with the light, refreshing flavors of Shift.
Sandwich: Crispy Buffalo Chicken Beer: Ranger IPA The funky blue cheese on this sandwich was the difference maker here. It's something you either love or don't. The "black current" notes in the hops pair well with the funk.
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