Tuesday 2 November 2010

Fast Food FABPOW! Big Mac and KFC

What is the best beer to enjoy with a Big Mac or a bucket of KFC?!

It’s usually the sort of thing we eat from the bag rather than taking it home and serving it up on a plate, but that shouldn’t mean it’s less worthy of finding a beer to pair it with. Sometimes it’s right to make an effort with the less finer things in life and treat them with a little reverence. That’s what this is for.

I once sat opposite a mate who ate a Big Mac in two mouthfuls. Two! He almost choked on the second bite but he managed it and it’s a sight I’ll (sadly) probably never forget. I’m no Don Gorske when it comes to Big Macs but I’m guessing it’s the most consumed burger in the world (can anything compete?) with something like 550 million sold in the US alone each year. Whenever I have one I’m filled with the same feeling I get when I drink a bottle of Bud: it’s incredibly familiar to me even though I very rarely ‘enjoy’ them; it’s as if their flavour is implanted in my brain and one mouthful is enough to trigger the Big Mac sensor. I think it’s the special sauce, the gherkin and the spongy texture which makes it, that and the handful of salty fries which follows it down and the cheese which lingers throughout. It’s delicious and anyone who says they don’t like Big Macs needs to stop being so unbearably gourmet and cool and just enjoy the trashier things in life. But, and this is the important thing, what beer to have with it?

I had two thoughts: a pale ale and, inspired by He Said Beer, She Said Wine, a Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, which is listed as the ideal beer for a classic hamburger. The London Pale Ale didn’t cut it, being neither toasty enough for the bun nor fruity enough for the condiments and cheese. The Indian Brown was the opposite, being too big and overpowering for the flimsy little patties (it would be good for a fat charred burger, blush in the middle, but not on the McDonalds version). Not wanting to fail I went back to the fridge and looked for something else... the choice was a Granville Island Kitsilano Maple Cream Ale, which my ex-boss had brought me back from a trip to Canada. The beer was smooth, nutty, toasty and had a depth of maple syrup and a crisp, earthy finish – a nice amber ale with plenty of flavour. Put that with a Big Mac and it’s fantastic! The maple sweetness keeps everything in control, the toasty depth in the beer matches the sweet bun and the beef, while the earthy hops rein in the sour gherkin, sticky cheese and the sweet special Mac sauce. It was spot on and I challenge anyone to find a better match (I lay this out there because I’m quite happy to buy more Big Macs and eat them with good beer just to see what works best!).

During my teens KFC was a sort-of nemesis and the cause of me ballooning to a fat 15 stone (seriously). When I worked in retail, which was the worst three months ever (mainly because I was fat and unfit and struggled to stand up all day), I’d have a large KFC variety meal at least three times a week, washing it down with a pot of gravy. I rarely have it now (despite walking past a KFC at least twice a day) but I still have a deep-rooted love for it stuck somewhere in the dark recesses of my late-teens. To rekindle that love affair I bought a variety meal with its two pieces of chicken, two hot wings and crispy strip. I picked out two beers to try with this one: a Goose Island IPA and a Meantime London Lager. The Goose Island overpowered the whole thing being a little too sweet, floral and fruity, but the London Lager, a beer made with East Anglian malt and Kentish hops, was remarkably good. The chicken takes on a buttery flavour with a peppery finish from the finger licking secret blend of 11 herbs and spices. The beer has a buttery edge, hints of toffee and then a lingering dry finish and with the chicken it couldn’t have been a better match, complimenting and then refreshing the palate from the grease ready for another gnaw. You can’t beat a Coke with KFC (it’s the fizz and sweetness which does it) but this was pretty damn close.

So a Maple Cream Ale works wonders with a Big Mac and a London Lager loves a KFC. Both beers are quite subtle and that’s necessary because the depth of flavour in these fast foods isn’t the equivalent to having a freshly-grilled slab of meat in a burger joint or a plate of home-fried chicken. They are made for mass-appeal so the flavours are simple and unchallenging, this means the beers served with them need to be equally simple so they don’t overpower.

This FABPOW! (the Food and Beer Pairing of the Week!) is beer and fast food and why the hell not. I even thought about taking the bottles with me to McDonalds and have them Sideways-style to get the full eating experience, but then I thought better of it... What would you have chosen to go with these? What about with a Burger King Whopper? A Subway? A Greggs pasty?


  1. I think the big question is not "What beer is best with a Big Mac/KFC?" but "What beer deserves to be paired with a Big Mac/KFC?". The only answer for me is ____ (meaning Bud, Stella, Peroni, it depends where you live): taste and pairing are not important, it's a matter of value.
    And trust me, I'm totally no-gourmet guy.

  2. What about with a Burger King Whopper?

    Cup of BK coffee (which is quite drinkable, although not as good as McDonald's).

    A Subway?

    Cup of coffee (probably from a nearby BK or KFC).

    Obviously I'm answering the wrong question - this is what I actually do - but I have to say it works pretty well for me. Not all happiness is beer-shaped.

    (And Gregg's pasties are frightful. A freshly-made Cornish pasty, hot from the oven, in Cornwall, goes remarkably well with a pint of whatever they're serving in the nearest pub - that I do know.)

  3. Professor Pie-Tin2 November 2010 at 09:40

    Your excellent thread is wrong in one major respect.
    To the seasoned beer drinker fast food is normally only ever consumed AFTER the last drink has been taken.
    There will be occasions during an all-day bender when ballast has to be taken on board to maintain a steady pace of knots - but then, I venture to suggest, any FABPOW pairings are largely irrelevant.
    It's just a means to an end to get onto the next stage of the session without hitting the dreaded wall.
    I normally allow 20 minutes as a reasonable time-out before plunging back in to the icy pool
    of elbow-raising.
    Perhaps a more interesting area of research is exactly what a person can consume post-piss up.
    I humbly submit TWO family-sized buckets of KFC and a cup of tea with one sweetener.

  4. I have a Big Mac from time to time usually when I'm drunk and I'm always astonished by just how sweet the burger bun is, how much sugar is there in that bread? I usually feel a bit ill and a bit guilty afterwards as well. As for the drink, Sprite usually...

  5. So the beer wasn't as good as the coke you get with your "meal deal" anyway? Umm thanks for that.

  6. Where did you get your London Lager from? (I assume it was gratis, given that you're a big star and all!)

  7. It was usually the case "when I were a lad" that any beer did the trick except it had to be consumed 12 hours before as the last in a long line of hangover inducing beers. Is this post related to the previous one about how loaded does one get?

  8. Hey Mark, nice one for flouting convention in this post.
    However, I'm now intrigued as to what a 15 stone teenage Dredge looks like!

  9. Depends on how old the Big Mac is:

  10. I don't think anything other than a macro should be paired with anything coming out of the bowels of McDonalds. Just saying. I'd much rather grill my own burger so I know the beer is deserving of its counterpart.

  11. 15 stone? No way, I call BS! :P

    I'm with Prof Pie Tin on this one. As much as I love fast food, it's more often than not consumed after or before beer. If before, it's serving as something to soak up the beer and if after, something purely to kill hunger.

    I can see the lager being a good match though, eager to try that soon!

  12. Great post — it almost makes me want to try a Big Mac sometime. Almost. I did have a burger from Burger King on the way home from Manchester and remember looking at it bemusedly and thinking "People think this is food?" It's so weird, the grey, steamed meat, the sweet bun and the odd vestigial something meant to resemble a slice of dill pickle.

  13. I like this a lot - seriously, I have a serious soft spot for both big Macs and KFC - I don't eat a great deal of them, I think that's why! That Cream Ale sounds good though, will keep an eye out. Nice post, fella.

  14. Pie-Tin - fast food isn't JUST about eating when drunk, come on!

    Cookie - gravy is always the choice with a KFC, not a Coke!

    Dubbel - got it from the BGBW style seminar and very nice it is. It was on tap at the Old Brewery this weekend.

    Matt - it's like me but with 4 stone extra piled on around the hips and tits!

    Lys - we'd all rather grill our own but sometimes (very rarely, admittedly!) McDonalds isn't all that bad!

    Mark - there's a pic of me on facebook at about that size when I was 15. I look a mess, like a fat Harry Potter in a chavvy tshirt!

    Barm - exactly and it's delicious :)

    Leigh - I'm glad somebody got it!!

  15. Orval or Mikkeller's It's Alive with a massive poke of chips and a tub of mayo.

  16. Bob - I'm all over that! I ordered a bottle of It's Alive from beermerchants ... if it lasts long enough, Im on it. :)

  17. Takes a lot to get over that. Well done mate. I used to be a short guy, also over-weight during my teens. Now I'm 5"9 and a good build. I still have some excess to loose.

  18. Did you ever try pairing a Big Mac with Innis & Gunn? Both very sweet and the dill in the special sauce will complement the vanilla from the oak aging. Also I&G is widely available and likely to be accessible for Joe Public. Just a thought ...

  19. Rick - That sounds like it could be a great match! I'll try that out sometime.