Step aside Garrett Oliver, because we’ve got some craft beer pairings that are sure to expand some palates…not to mention some comfort levels.
Being in the beer and food (or beer as food) writing game, our inbox always contains its fair share of press releases for upcoming restaurant and bar openings, local food happenings and edible product launches (not to mention requests to publicize Kickstarter campaigns for overengineered bottle openers). But, one recent press release really stood out–an announcement from Hopper Foods, an Austin-based start-up specializing in all-natural energy bars containing…of all things…cricket protein.
Edible insects, while fairly commonplace in most of the world, are of course still considered pretty taboo in the United States and other western countries. But, as it turns out, they are starting to gain traction as a sustainable future food source worldwide, touted for their low environmental impact and high nutrition levels.
Armed with this new knowledge, my brain was sparked with an unconventional idea.
The alliterative appeal of a Bugs & Beer pairing story alone was enough of a draw to prompt a sit-down with some of the country’s biggest movers and shakers in the edible insect advocacy community (who, luckily, happen to live right here in Austin). The question on my mind: what do these experts have to say about pairing insects with craft beer?
So, Sunday I grabbed a beer with Harman Johar, Founder of World Ento, an edible insect supplier that provides crickets (both ground and whole) and occasionally mealworms, to producers like Hopper Foods, and curious retail clients and chefs alike. Joining us were Robert Nathan Allen and Meghan Young of Little Herds, a nonprofit organization aimed at educating people on the environmental and health benefits of edible insects, and, of course, Jack Ceadel and Marta Hudecova, founders of Hopper Foods.
Upon my companions’ request, we met at Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company (let’s face it, they didn’t need to twist my arm too hard). Naturally, they came bearing snacks for the experiment–whole roasted crickets, whole roasted crickets with a salt and herb mix, and two of Hopper Foods flagship cricket protein bars–a Kale, Green Tea, Seaweed and Ginger bar and a Peanut butter, Cherry and Cacao Bar.
Crickets, the group told me, have a distinct, yet mild nutty flavor that can be showcased when presented roasted or fried, or, for the more faint of heart, easily disguised if ground into flour and baked into pancakes, muffins, breads, etc. For this reason, the delicate cricket flavor can be overwhelmed if paired with say a very bitter IPA, or a high alcohol barrel-aged stout.
So, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the first beer to go over well with the whole cricket tasting was The ABGB’s Day Trip Pale Ale. At 39 IBUs, this flavor forward pale ale trades in hop bitterness for luscious fruity notes and a nice light body.
When it comes to whole crickets, whether roasted or fried, Johar recommended Red Ales as another ideal pairing.
“The nutty and sweet notes balance really well with the oily and crunchy texture of the crickets, and people like the complementary colors,” he said.
Luckily, the ABGB’s Big Mama Red was there to fill that suit, and it was a favorite pairing for many in the group.
Big Mama Red also struck a cord with Ceadel, who found it to be the most optimal pairing for the Hopper Foods Kale, Green Tea, Seaweed and Ginger bar.
For good measure, Johar also shared some knowledge on pairing mealworms and beer courtesy of a recent flavor analysis project.
He says the natural almond-like flavor of mealworms tends to really meld with coffee stouts and porters, and beers with strong nutty flavors, like a full bodied brown ale.
In the interest of full disclosure, I had to take the experts word (and facial expressions, and satisfied sighs) on these pairings for this initial fact-finding mission. But, if you’re ready to take the plunge and try pairing insects with beers, head on over to the Hopper Foods website to learn about how you can RSVP to their Hopper Bar Pre-Kickstarter Party and Cookout event at in.gredients TONIGHT. Bonus: In.gredients happens to have quite a few local craft beers on tap.
In addition to the Hopper Bars available, Johar will be there representing World Ento by cooking up delicacies like spicy teriyaki crickets, caramelized crickets and mealworms on banana cricket pancakes. Click here for details and to RSVP to the event.
Can’t make it to the event? Retail customers can buy products like cricket protein powder, cricket protein pancake and cookie mixes, and whole recipe-ready crickets online in the World Ento shop. To learn more about crickets as a sustainable food source, check out the Little Herds website. The Hopper Foods Q&A also does a great job of covering harvest techniques, cultural stigmas and food allergy concerns.
So, what do you think, would you try pairing beer and bugs?