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?