Drink Pairings – Which Beverage is Best with American Wagyu?
While everyone has a favorite beverage to enjoy with their Snake River Farms American Wagyu beef, it’s worth exploring new pairings to expand your culinary horizons. Let’s start with the basics of flavor and see how they apply to finding a drink to complement our American Wagyu.
Have you ever watched a chef on TV taste a dish, then assess its flavor? She’ll call out what’s lacking, “it needs more salt,” or “some acid would cut the fat on the plate”. Her trained palate is able to quickly discern what’s required to balance the overall flavor. This is the same concept behind drink pairings. Food tastes best with a drink that compliments or offsets the dominant flavor in a dish.
Balancing flavor can be more art than science, but the basic idea rests with the concept of five primary flavors that combine to find a harmonious balance. The five flavors are:
Salt – A flavor that needs no introduction, salt magically enhances the flavor of most foods. It boosts sweetness in particular, and also balances bitterness.
Sweet – This is the flavor found in sugar, honey and ripe fruit, sweetness offsets bitter and sour flavors and can also bring down the level of heat in a spicy dish.
Sour – This is a flavor that detects acidity and is found in citrus, vinegar and fermented foods. The taste buds for sourness recognize hydrogen ions from organic acids.
Bitter – The most sensitive of the five flavors, or tastes, bitterness is a workhorse when it comes to balance. It helps to cut through rich, fatty foods and balances with sweet flavors.
Umami – Often described as “meaty” or “savory,” umami is the taste that indicates the presence of glutamic acid found in soy sauce, mushrooms and some cheeses. The name means “good flavor” and is a flavor component to add when food requires further depth or balance.
THE BEEF FLAVORING PROFILE
In order to find a beverage to compliment Snake River Farms beef, we need to define and identify the flavor of our American Wagyu. A tool many flavor-oriented food businesses utilize is the flavor wheel. You’ll see them frequently for coffee, tea, wine, bourbon, chocolate and beer. The idea is to identify specific flavor components and create a lexicon of selected words to describe them.
Looking at the five primary flavors, unseasoned beef can be categorized as umami and, to a lesser degree, bitter. Broad, generic flavor wheels that identify and name components universal to all foods tend to place beef into the major categories like earthy or meaty.
It’s important to note that any food has multiple factors that influence its flavor and eating experience. These include aroma (a big part of flavor) and texture (sometimes unappetizingly referred to as “mouth feel”).
Taken to the next step, the flavor of beef depends on where it comes from. For example, a ribeye steak and a filet mignon both taste like beef, yet each cut has a unique flavor profile due to the amount of intramuscular fat, or marbling, and the texture.
The University of Queensland developed a beef flavor wheel for Australian Wagyu. Dr. Heather Smyth, a flavor expert, headed up the development of the chart. Her description fits well with the taste of our American Wagyu.
“I would describe the flavour as intensely caramelised – a tender roasted juiciness, buttery and dissolving sweetness in the mouth that lingers,” Dr Smyth said.
MAKING THE MATCH
Now that we’re armed with a basic knowledge of the five flavors and some specifics about beef, here are some tips for pairing Snake River Farms American Wagyu with beverages:
BITTER BALANCES FAT
A well marbled ribeye, like a Snake River Farms tomahawk steak, is bursting with rich, juicy flavor. The high level of intramuscular fat is bold and pairs beautifully with a beverage that contains bitter notes. Many red wines and beers, like India Pale Ales, have bitter notes and are worth considering.
Full bodied red wines contain tannins, bitter compounds, present in oak and grapes and are a great choice. Some red wines that contain the high levels of tanninare Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Monastrell and Malbecs.
India Pale Ales (or IPAs) are hop forward and have a distinct bitterness that cuts and compliments the high fat content of popular steaks. The bitterness of beer is quantified using IBUs, or International bitterness units that run from a scale of 5 to 120. West Coast Style IPAs have the highest level of IBUs and are great choice. In addition to bitterness, IPAs often have citrus notes that work well with steak.
MATCH THE INTENSITY OF THE BEEF
We’ve all heard that white wine pairs best with fish and red wine pairs best with meat. This is a simple example of matching the intensity of the food with the wine. This same principle applies to any beverage. Spirits like bourbon or Scotch have a higher alcohol level and a fullness that matches the intensity of American Wagyu beef. A mature bourbon with the notes of caramel, oak and vanilla bourbon hold up and compliment a well-marbled ribey as does the heavily peat-smoked malt of an Islay single malt Scotch.
Full bodied beers like a porter or stout with heavy notes of coffee or chocolate are also great for matching the intensity of American Wagyu. Stouts are well known as a flavor to accompany beef and you’ll frequently see them on the ingredient list of beef stews.
On the flip side, a steak like a filet mignon has less marbling and has a mild flavor. Red wines are still a good choice, but think lighter like a Pinot Noir. White wine lovers, this is where you can consider a wine like Sauvignon Blanc that has higher acidity to work with the beef or an oaked Chardonnay.
Artisan ciders, frequently made from apples, are lower in alcohol than wines but have a higher acidity and some tannins that are match up well with a filet mignon.
Lighter beers like lagers, pilsners and German Kolsch are also good choices to pair with steaks with less marbling. They are crisp, light and bring out the flavor in beef without overpowering. These beers also have a lower alcohol content so their lighter strength matches well with leaner American Wagyu beef.
CONGRUENT OR COMPLEMENTARY?
To take our flavor pairings to the next step, consider whether your beverage pairing matches the flavors of your steak or roast or if it is on the opposite side of the flavor wheel. Pairings that share flavors are called congruent while those with little or no shared flavors are called complementary.
Well known pairings, like red wine and steak, fall into the congruent definition where a balanced flavor results from the shared flavor components of food and beverage working to amplify each other.
Contrasting pairings create balance by virtue of their flavor differences. By contrasting flavors from the opposite side of the flavor chart, these pairings develop a singular, harmonious experience. The acidity of sparkling wine pairs surprisingly with beef. The carbonation acts to clear the palate and assists in enjoying the full flavor.
CHANGE IT UP
It’s no wonder there are many standard beverage pairings for our American Wagyu beef. While no one will ever move completely away from cabernet and ribeye, understanding a few basics of how flavors interact opens the door for some delicious experimentation. Try some of the examples listed here and keep an open mind to try some new beverage pairings of your own.