What beverage complements the sweetness of a Sweet Martha’s cookie? Which wine or beer washes down a giant turkey leg?
These are questions discerning eaters could contemplate on a culinary jaunt to the Minnesota State Fair. Pairing the perfect drink with favorite foods might sound hoity toity, but when done right, it can enhance the flavors in whatever is hiding beneath a layer of fried dough.
Sometimes finding the right pairing comes down to personal taste. “If you want to kick back with alligator sausage and have a dill pickle beer, then to each his own. It’s really nobody’s business,” said Leslee D. Miller, a sommelier and the owner of wine consulting firm Amusée and the national wine club, Sip Better.
But there is some science behind the best food and drink matchups, and it applies whether you’re at Demi or a diner — or even the State Fair.
Consider the fat content (high would usually be an understatement), whether the food is creamy or salty, sweet or savory. Acidic wines go well with rich, oily foods. So do bubbles. Sour, fruity beers match well with berry-based dishes. A stout and ice cream? Made for each other.
“It depends on what you like to eat at the fair,” said Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. “If you’re eating all fried foods, it could be weighing you down. Go with lighter beers: pilsners, kölsches, a light Mexican lager.” Want to eat a little of everything? Try a flight of beers; the Guild is offering rotating combinations from 90 Minnesota beers at their station in the Agriculture Horticulture Building.
And be sure to abide by your own mood before following anyone else’s guidelines. Meat, like the pork chop on a stick, goes nicely with a glass of Minnesota Marquette wine, and Miller would recommend a Frontenac with a turkey leg. But “honestly, if I’m going to hang onto a giant turkey leg, I don’t want to get bougie with a glass of wine,” she said. “Go straight to the beer building.”
Other things to think about when picking your drink are the specific flavors, like mango, cinnamon, and yes, pickle, that made their way into the winemaking or brewing process. Many of the more off-the-wall State Fair beverage creations are riffs on classic fair foods; Mini Donuts, Funnel Cake, Cotton Candy are some of the treats that now come drinkable, and foods with the same elements can match nicely — or be overkill, depending on how much you love them.
“You can’t do anything better than the Mini Donut Beer paired to something like Tom Thumb Donuts,” Miller said. “That’s pretty much a hit out of the park there.”
Similarly, the new Funnel Cloud F2 Ale from Bad Weather Brewing Co., with the flavors of lightly toasted bread and vanilla, could be the perfect accompaniment to an age-old funnel cake. But Nick Mancini, head chef at Mancini’s al Fresco, where Funnel Cloud is sold, says he’d have the beer with a Poncho Dog corn dog. The sweetness in the batter would be a match to the hint of dessert in the brew.
That Dill Pickle Kölsch from Tin Whiskers Brewing, at Giggles’ Campfire Grill, has already become a fair legend in its short life span. Infused with dill and cucumber, it’s garnished with a pickle and a cube of Havarti cheese. They’re onto something with that little skewer. Take it a step further with a basket of fried cheese curds, Miller said.
New at Tejas Express, the Michelada is as close to a cocktail as you can get on the fairgrounds. It’s Michelob Golden Light mixed with hot sauce, lime juice and spices, and it goes great with “something sausage-y,” Miller said. A classic Polish sausage would be a win, but so would any array of alligator dishes from Bayou Bob’s.
Another new beer this year, called the Great Minnesota Handshake, is a collaboration from Indeed Brewing Co. and the Freehouse, and is sold at the Blue Barn. The strawberry milkshake cream ale has lactose in it, lending it a creamy mouthfeel, not unlike a real shake. Perfect for taming down spicy food, said Indeed marketing director Kelly Moritz. But here’s a next-level suggestion: “A bucket of those French fries,” Moritz said. “It’s the idea of when you’d get a milkshake and dip your fries in it, it’s always delicious. I can’t really think of anything better.”
For dessert, choose whether you want to go the wine or beer route.
The Hideaway Speakeasy’s new Lavender Lemonade Bubble Trouble combines Cannon River Sparkling Edelweiss with lavender-infused lemonade. The sparkling aspect would match well with fried pastries, and “something with a cream filling would be really delicious,” Miller said. So, use this wine cocktail as an excuse to visit the longtime Cream Puffs vendor, selling nothing but, well, cream puffs.
A few vendors are offering frosé, a frozen pink wine slushie with various juices mixed in. Minnesota Wine Country’s stand incorporates a watermelon twist, while other icy blended wines highlight peach or raspberry. Miller, who hosts three beverage pairing classes at the Wine Country booth, likes those frozen wines with a deep-fried Oreo. “Think about what main flavors stick out,” she said. “Chocolate and raspberries? That’s pretty magical.”
For beer, Bennett McGinty gravitates toward darker, chocolaty brews, “something like a black ale with coffee added.”
A porter, which can be less thick than an indulgent stout, would pair well with a cold treat from the Dairy Building. But if stout is your thing, go for it.
“Frankly, if you’re eating anything at the State Fair, it’s OK to indulge in some heavier beers,” she said. “It’s one of those cheat days.”
Last but not least, the ultimate pairing question: What would you sip with a bucket of Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies? You don’t need a sommelier’s degree to figure that one out.
Just head to the All You Can Drink Milk booth.