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Hophead: When Pairing Beer, The Sommelier Is Helpful...Sometimes

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Great Brewers recently launched its "Beer Sommelier," an online program that purports to pair beers to a variety of meats, grains, vegetables, cheeses, breads and sweets. "Masterfully select the best beer styles to pair with any dish," the Web site boasts.

With the Libertine Bar's Brass Knuckle Corn Dog Beatdown set for Saturday, it seemed an ideal opportunity to find out what beers would best complement a battered and deep-fried frankfurter.

That's when the first problem arose: corny dogs aren't listed. Perhaps Great Brewers could tone down the "any dish" claim.

Oh, well. So the sommelier isn't perfect. Finding the right suds to wash down a corny dog would take a bit of thinking.

A corny dog is basically a hot dog with fried corn batter, right? Surely the meat section would include that all-American staple which, eaten at the ballpark, beats roast beef at the Ritz. But no hot dog, either. No cornbread in the bread section, for that matter. Somehow, the Beer Sommelier has room for terrines and souffle but not the frankfurter.

The closest two dishes appeared to be corn fritters and salami. The suggestions for corn fritters were generally lighter-bodied American lagers and pilseners. Salami, on the other hand, called for a Belgian-style Saison, among other suggestions.

Inspiration struck--an American saison would be the ideal compromise. And, as luck would have it, there was already a corked 750-mL bottle of Boulevard's Saison, part of the Kansas City brewery's Smokestack Series, in the Hophead beer cooling unit.

Pre-corn dog, the cloudy, golden saison poured a thick, long-lasting head. It was much more bitter and tangy than expected, very refreshing and effervescent with a bit of hoppiness on the nose that wasn't nearly as distinct in the taste. Good, if not as impressive as Hennepin's saison.

It was, however, an inspired choice to pair with corny dogs during a practice run for the corn dog-eating contest. The bitterness helped offset the sweetness of the honey batter, and the effervescence and tart quality washed away lingering grease and salt. In fact, the beer tasted better after the corn dogs--even after a dozen of them. And as a relatively light beer, it wasn't too filling, either.

Popping the cork on a saison post-victory sounds pretty sweet.

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