Beers To Match Those Chiles From Hatch

In case you haven't read this blog, other food blogs, turned on the television or driven on Central Expressway in the last month, let us remind you that this is Hatch chile season, with peppers from Hatch, New Mexico, hitting grocery shelves and restaurant kitchens.

The recipes for chiles, roasted or otherwise, are limitless. In the Hophead house, though, our favorite way to use the roasted spicy peppers is in salsas and chili.

While the peppers are available cheaper elsewhere, last weekend we happened to be in the neighborhood of Central Market, which also has  an excellent beer selection and very helpful beer and wine experts. So we put the question to them: What beer would go best with Hatch chile chili?

Interestingly, Negra Modelo was the first beer recommended by an employee on our Saturday visit. I was expecting him to recommend an IPA, a style traditionally paired with spicy foods. But, he explained to Lady Hophead as I picked up chili ingredients, the slightly sweet dark lager provides a nice counterpoint to the spicy, meaty and smoky elements of chili made with the New Mexico peppers. Makes sense, given that Negra Modelo is a Mexican beer. His next suggestion was a similarly sweet and malty style, an Oktoberfest brew, and he recommended Hofbräu's Oktoberfest, which we ended up buying.

I won't share my chili recipe (not that it's a secret, it's just different every time, and I don't remember exactly what all went into this batch), but it's probably a bit sweeter than most Texas chilis. Along with 5 pounds of meat (4 beef, 1 sausage), I think this batch had about a pound of fire-roasted, peeled and seeded peppers, about half a dozen roasted jalapeños, sauteed onion, tomatoes, cumin, coriander seed and garlic, plus the kicker -- an entire Hershey bar, which gives it a bit of sweetness and a sort of mole-sauce complexity. I also added the better part of an Oktoberfest to the pot.

The consensus at the dinner table was that we liked the chili and liked the beer -- which was rich, sweet and malty, despite the clear golden color -- but weren't sure how much we liked them together. Since I'd added some of the beverage to the actual dish (a trick I also pull with spaghetti sauce and wine), the two complemented each other nicely. But the sweetness from the chili's chocolate and caramelized onions and peppers added up with the beer's malty sweetness and got to be too much after a while, without providing enough relief from the heat.

Sterkens White Ale with leftovers the next night proved to be a much more refreshing match. The light, dry Belgian witbier with coriander and orange peel offered a nice contrast to the sweet, savory meat and managed to cool down an overheated palate. The coriander was a nice complement to the scattering of coriander seeds in the chili, too.

With a few pounds of chili still left in the freezer, I'll have plenty of opportunities in the near future to pair it with beer. I'm thinking dry and hoppy is the way to go, so next up will be crisp lagers and IPAs. Am I on the right track? Feel free to share your beer suggestions or chili recipes in the comments.

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