It’s that time of the year. We’re just about a week out from Mardi Gras, and its time to answer some important questions.
No, this isn’t about humoring the poor state of Alabama. Or what you should do with beads on the ground. No, this is something far more important to your family get-together, or parade-going experience.
What beer should you pair with your king cake?
Fellow beer-enthusiast Diabsoule and I decided to sit down and do some research, with help from the outstanding bar staff of the Bulldog in Baton Rouge.
Obviously, king cake can mean a lot of things to different people. That said, we decided to stick with a plain (i.e. cinnamon-filled), grocery store-brand king cake. Fillings offer too many variables, and I’m sure your favorite may offer some different options here. But we had to pick a baseline to work with.
Likewise, we tried to keep things relatively simple and local, with as many Louisiana brews as possible, or at least some others that are also readily available.
So here’s a comparison of our notes.
First off, and probably most interesting for our findings — the darker end of the beer spectrum lost out here. That was an upset in my mind. Usually dark beers go well with sweeter foods and desserts, but in our experience the darker stuff tended to overpower the cake, more than complement it. Overall, beers with more of a lighter flavor and color won the day.
No. 1: Abita Strawberry
This was a bit of an upset for the both of us, but the flavor really complemented the king cake well. The sweetness kind of just nuzzled up with the cinnamon flavor, without too much contrast. It almost paired like a caramel fruit dip.
This was the first beer we tried when our experiment started and it was hard to beat. The sweetness of the strawberry added the perfect complement to the king cake. The beer itself was light enough in body to not be too heavy when drinking and the flavor also supported rather than overpowered the savory cake.
No. 2 Parish Canebreak
Honestly this took me by surprise. This isn’t a favorite beer of mine but the mild flavors of the beer supported the flavor of the king cake without being overpowering. The sweetness from the Louisiana sugar cane used in the beer and the citrus from the hops added a nice sweetness to go along with the king cake.
This one was kind of a throw-in choice for us, because of its popularity, but it was a very nice surprise. And Canebreak has a nice snap at the end that provides a little bit of contrast.
Now a lot of hoppier beers tended to overpower the cake as well with that hoppy bitterness. But a few worked out well:
3. NOLA Hopyright Infringement
The former MechaHopzilla has a good body to it as an Imperial IPA, so there’s enough malts to give it a nice body before the hops hit. And you ultimately get a nice sweet pairing that’s punctuated with a little bite at the end, and I like a little contrast like that sometimes.
A double IPA with a maltier backbone, the fruit flavored hops added a particular refreshing bite when drinking it after nibbling a piece of king cake.
Here is where Diab and I disagreed a little — I liked Great Raft’s Reasonably Corrupt, which is a darker beer in terms of flavor but with a lighter texture that isn’t overpowering. The caramel flavors paired really well, in my opinion and kind of added something.
4. Crying Eagle’s Louisiana Lager
This mild, bready, crisp lager really complemented the king cake without overpowering the flavor of it. It easily mixed wild and offered a nice, clean finish.
But we definitely agreed on our final entry:
5. Abita’s The Boot
The cinnamon and sweetness of the king cake and the mild hops and breadiness of the beer paired nicely and when washing down a bite of king cake with the beer there was a nice hoppy bite on the back of your palate.
These lighter beers really offered a nice complement in terms of flavor. You still got that vanilla and cinnamon coming through, and then some contrast with the hops at the end. Kind of cleanses the palate.
We tried a number of beers — in the interest of science — and in general, the milder flavors worked best. Darker beers — Wiseacre’s Gotta Get Up to Get Down and Left Hand’s Milk Stout Nitro — just totally overpowered the cake. Ditto stronger flavors like Tin Roof’s Voodoo and Uber Fruit.
So if you’re heading out to some parades and want to try and enhance your king cake experience, give some of these a try.