Ever since discovering the incredible matchup of Riesling / Gewurztraminer wines and thai food several years ago I've pretty much focused on those combinations whenever eating Thai.
In replies to various postings preferring a beer match I've often suggested trying a sweeter beer, specifically barleywine, with Thai food as opposed to a more "bitter" brew like Budweiser, etc. The theory being that a "sweeter" wine like Riesling matches IMHO the best with Thai, therefore a sweeter beer is likely to as well.
So a few days ago I decided to test this theory at a meal at Thai Avenue.
3 beers were tested (on a scale of "body"): 1) A "lightweight" summer beer: Konig-Ludwig Weisse (German) 2) A substantial pale ale: Alpha King India Pale Ale (U.S.) 3) A benchmark barleywine: Victory Old Horizontal. Each is a very well made product in it's category and together they represent a nice "scale" from the light weisse to the dark/rich/sweeter barleywine. Impressions follow:
BEER w/ PAD KRA POW: This dish was better prepared than our previous visit. Complaints: the dish was fairly heavily laden with "extras" like green pepper, carrot, etc. and did not feature real Thai basil and could have used a bit more pepper and garlic. This all said the overall taste was still very nice.
The Weisse match was "okay" with this dish, my companion noted "yes... it's her favorite". The Pale Ale was "kind of too bitter... so-so". her comments: "bitter..." As for the Barleywine: "not bad...a bit 'heavy and syrupy'...", her comments: "okay..." Later I did a re-test after noticing that barleywine and fish sauce have a certain affinity... "better with a dab of extra fish sauce..."
Overall our fave beer with the PKP was the light, lemony, fruity Weisse... the barleywine, especially with an extra dash of fish sauce was an acceptable "2nd place".
GRILLED PORK NECK. This interesting dish is a generous portion, served with a sauce of tamarind, cilantro, and toasted rice shavings.
The Weisse match: "Nice, spicy..." Pale Ale: "tastes somewhat better with this than with the PKP..." Barleywine: "... a strange taste combination...much better with a dip in fish sauce first..."
Our clear preference here was the Weisse again.
GRILLED ISSAN WHOLE SAUSAGE. This dish is served with ginger chunks & fresh pepper slices, my least favorite of the dishes overall. A little of this is okay but more than a couple small pieces isn't appealing.
The Weisse match comments: "...not really..." Pale Ale: "... much better with this..." Barleywine: "...okay... improved with fish sauce! "
Probably the overall fave with this dish was the India Pale Ale...
PAPAYA SALAD "SOM TOM THAI POO" (Full salad plus crab, peanuts, and dried shrimps). If you don't include the word "thai" you don't get the peanuts and dried shrimps so my translating companion advises. This dish was just superbly prepared, much better combined flavors than our previous visit but just HOT AS HADES... almost too hot, actually, and I have very high pepper tolerance.
With the Weisse and Pale Ale my comments were "okay"... with barleywine "okay, not great"... no match really stood out with Papaya Salad.
Overall, the qualities of the weisse matched best for us with this meal: the lightness, floral & lemon overtones of weisse were generally quite nice with the dishes. The barleywine was enhanced alot by the fish sauce and we'd recommend you try it. Overall I can't suggest drinking a pale ale with thai. It should be noted that Alpha King is a rich pale ale with subltle "sweet" overtones... somewhere on the scale between, say, Sierra Nevada (very dry and bitter) and Dreadnaught (very sweet)...
Regardless, the Weisse cannot begin to compare in Thai flavor matching to a fine Gewurztraminer or Riesling, not even close.... but I'm very glad we tried.