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Samuel Adams and the Culinary Institute of America Study Correlation Between Hops and Heat


Maybe not specifically with Samuel Adams products but most of us have been preforming this test the majority of our lives.  I’ve been doing it for 35 years but it’s nice to see a “formal” study done by culinary experts proving the theory that hops and capsaicin mix well and varying the combinations and concentrations will make your dinner a different experience each time you change the mix.  I wish I could have been part of the focus group but either way, you’ll know how to pair your beer and wings to maximize your culinary experience!

Looking to prove a long held theory among brewers that the bitterness in hops affects the perceived heat of spicy food, the brewers at Samuel Adams turned to The culinary Institute of America (CIA) to scientifically examine the correlation between hops and heat.  The experiment involved a clear scientific method and two key ingredients: a flight of Samuel Adams Rebel IPA beers and Buffalo-style chicken wings.  Who knew science could be this fun!

To conduct this test, Samuel Adams Brewer and Director of Brewery Programs, Jennifer Glanville traveled to the CIA campus in Hyde Park, New York, to join a group of distinguished chefs and culinary experts in a sensory tasting panel of epic proportions.  The group sampled three Samuel Adams West Coast-style IPA’s – Rebel IPA, Rebel Rider Session IPA, and Rebel Rouser Double IPA – alongside buffalo wings that foodies might describe as “medium Hot”.  The panel set out to specifically test how a beer’s International Bitter Units (IBU’s) and alcohol by volume (ABV” affect the perceived spiciness of spicy foods like Buffalo wings.  The panelists concluded that, together, the greater IBU’s and higher ABV do increase how taste buds perceive spiciness.  However how the mouth perceives “heat” depends on other characteristics in beer, like the hops, malt, and alcohol content.

The method was simple and the materials – delicious.  A plate of spicy Buffalo wings, which served as the constant in the study, was tasted in comparison with each Rebel brew.  The beers were tasted in ascending order of ABV and IBU’s – starting with Rebel Rider Session IPA, moving to Rebel IPA, and ending with Rebel Rouser Double IPA

The study determined that the three unique IPA styles affected the perceived spiciness of hot wings differently.  Rebel Rouser Double IPA (8.4% ABV / 85 IBU’s produced far and away the highest spiciness rating and dramatically increased the heat intensity of the pairing,.  The panelists summarized that this complex paring is perfect for hop heads and spicy food enthusiasts, and may be overwhelming for those that are less adventurous when it comes to beer and food.

Rebel Rider Session IPA (4.5% ABV / 45 IBU’s) with its lighter body and lower alcohol content, allowed the beer and wings to complement each other r nicely.  Panelists also noted an increase in heat or a longer lasting heat from this pairing compared to the other brews, likely because of the lighter malt profile of the beer, as well as a refreshing interplay between the piney, citrus hop notes in the beer and spiciness of the wings.

Rebel IPA (6.5% ABV / 45 IBU’s) which showcases a balance of malt and hop flavor rather than aggressive bitterness, was the most complementary paring, which the panelists believed would appeal to almost any craft beer lover and Buffalo wing eater.  Rebel IPA’s bug citrus, piney and resinous hop flavors accentuated and showcased the sweet meaty taste of the chicken and just the right amount of heat from the Buffalo spice.

“If you visit any bar around the country, there’s a good chance you’ll find someone perched on a stool next to a delicious craft beer and a plate of Buffalo wings.  Americans love this pairing, and we were thrilled to work with Samuel Adams to see firsthand how the bitterness found in hops affects the spiciness level in food from a culinary standpoint”, said Chef David Kamen, CIA Project Manager, who oversaw the sensory tasting panel.  “Each of the pairings was unique in its own way.  One of our panelists described the pairing of the wings and double IPA as a “freight train” of spice and hops”.

“At the brewery, we’ve known for a long time that beer and food interact and affect how we experience flavors.  Having the opportunity to put this theory to a true test with experts from the CIA was wildly exciting as both a brewer and a self-proclaimed foodie.  This sensory tasting panel proved that beer’s complex flavor profile can truly create an elevated pairing experience,:” said Glanville.  “The paring of wings and Rebel IPA struck me as the one that craft beer drinkers and hot wing lovers alike would enjoy frequently – at home watching the big game or out playing trivia at a bar – and now we know why we enjoy this pairing so much!  There’s a nice interplay between the beer and wings.  the beer’s malt character ensures that the hops and the wing’s spiciness never overpower one another.  Instead, they allow both the bitterness and heat to really be evident on their own.  When it comes to craft beer and food, half the fun is experimenting with different interactions and flavor combinations.  The range of flavors in our family of Rebel IPAs showcased that the possibilities for pairing are endless”.

“Samuel Adams and the Culinary Institute of America Study Correlation Between Hops and Heat,” Gourmet News 80:9 (Sep 2015): 8.           

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