Grown-up snack: Pair gourmet beef jerky with craft beer

Beer and beef jerky Jim Galligan

When you think of beef jerky and beer, images of cowboys or ironworkers might come to mind – manly men who live hard and only allow themselves modest pleasures. But both beer and jerky have grown up in recent years, going from the mass marketed stuff to carefully crafted pleasures.

At the risk of losing my man card, I decided to do a beer pairing that would have John Wayne rolling in his grave, mating a bunch of fancy jerkies with some excellent craft brews. I figured it’d be a fun way to explore how pairings can create new flavors, one little bite at a time.

I sampled six meat treats made by Sonoma, Calif.’s KRAVE Jerky. They were crafted from beef, pork and turkey, and came in a variety of funky flavors like Black Cherry Barbecue and Basil Citrus. KRAVE claims that their products are all-natural, hand cut and nitrate-free. Jerky has certainly come a long way since I last snapped into a Slim Jim!

The thing that struck me as I bit into my first flavored meat snack, KRAVE’s Chipotle Lime beef jerky, was just how tender the meat was. It was still firm enough to allow me to feel like a caveman tearing a hunk of meat apart with my teeth, but chewing on the stuff was more akin to chomping on a moist steak than grinding away on the rock-hard jerky of my youth.

The Chipotle Lime jerky tasted like a gourmet bowl of chili, starting out with a rich beef flavor, followed by a blossom of sweet lime and a smoky wave of chipotle pepper. The heat was just right – full of character but not overpowering. It worked quite well with Magic Hat Dream Catcher IPL, a hopped up lager with a peppery hop kick that helped to bring out the sweet sizzle of the chipotle peppers.

The Chili Lime beef jerky started off sweet and simple, with the beef and lime flavors coming on in unison, followed by a burst of heat from the garlic chili sauce used in its recipe. This combination makes this jerky a great pairing partner for a wheat beer. I put it together with a New Belgium Snapshot Wheat, which has smooth and sweet malts and a bright pop of hops – a perfect match for this tender and tasty treat. It’s a great combo for hot summer days.

KRAVE’s Grilled Sweet Teriyaki pork jerky had a smooth honeyed sweetness about it – a perfect companion for a hop bomb, like Ballast Point’s excellent Sculpin IPA. The sweet pork acted as a launching pad upon which the Sculpin’s burst of citrusy hops soared. The combination also pulled new flavors from the pork treat, especially a broad and sweet apple.

The Basil Citrus turkey jerky was a little unsettling at first, mostly because it didn’t look the part - it was a pinkish-tan color, which makes sense, as KRAVE doesn’t add coloring to their jerky. This jerky blended the mellow flavor of turkey with a sweet gush of citrus and herbal pop of basil. It’s a delicate taste, one that’s best paired with a smooth and light beer so both can have room to shine on your palate. It worked marvelously with an Allagash White, whose broad and smooth wheat malts and mellow tastes of orange and coriander intertwined beautifully with the sweet and herbal flavor of this turkey treat.

KRAVE’s Garlic Chili Pepper beef jerky set a wonderful fire in my mouth, when the rich taste of garlic-laden beef was lit up by a hearty dose of crushed red pepper. Any beer you choose to pair with it should be first and foremost a fireman, like Victory Prima Pils, a bright and crisp lager that helped to cut the heat while resetting my palate with a dry brace of bitter hops.

Finally, KRAVE’s flavorful Black Cherry Barbecue pork jerky had the natural sweetness of its meat brought out by the cherries, and featured just enough salt and spices to keep the whole affair from becoming cloyingly sweet. It had a towering taste, one that required a big-flavored beverage to bring out its best. This stuff was amazing with a nip of Makers Mark whisky, whose notes of cherry and leather were sent skyrocketing by this jerky’s flavor.

I guess this goes to show that eventually everyone grows up, including my inner caveman. While it might seem like sacrilege to fancy-up these two bastions of old-fashioned manliness, there’s really nothing wrong with making simple pleasures a little more pleasurable.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shopping for some new throw pillows for the man cave…

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