This one bugs me: hops vs chilli heat. The go-to food and beer match for anything spicy is so often something super hoppy. But I think it's a terrible way to go: hops kick at the capsicum heat of chilli and rather than mellowing the mouthful, it sends it in incendiary new directions of flaming bitterness which leaves the tongue begging for you to stop. How can that be a good thing?
I don't want a bite of hot food to be followed by a crack of hop bitterness – they poke each other, make each other more intense, and then set of the pain and bitterness receptors which kicks in the get-the-hell-away flight mechanism. Instead of hops, what I want is something cooling and refreshing: a wheat beer, an oatmeal stout, a helles. Rather than trying to put the Scoville scorch out with more heat, these beers with their cool, rounded, smooth flavours are soothing and balancing.
I've never understood English IPA and curry and never got the idea of Mexican food with US IPA; they fight rather than play. There are, however, some good matches with heat and hops, but these rely on malt sweetness to balance and hop fragrance (instead of bitterness) to lift it: spiced Jerk chicken and IPA can be brilliant and Thai dishes with Pacific pale ales. These work as the flavours balance each other. Balance is key when it comes to getting food and beer matching right. There’s no balance is big hop bitterness and fiery chilli heat.
Does anyone actually think that really bitter, hopped-up beers work with very spicy, chilli-up foods?