Authors note: I wrote the backpage “Quench” essay for Imbibe Magazine’s Texas issue, the first issue dedicated to the drink culture of a single state. My contribution explores taco and beer pairings. To read more from the issue click here.
After my wife and son, I have two great loves—tacos and beer. For my food blog, Taco Trail, I’ve eaten at hundreds of taquerías and Mexican restaurants in my adopted hometown of Dallas and across the United States. Meanwhile, I’ve logged countless hours at beer bars and craft breweries.
Texas is the land of the San Antonio puffy taco, the breakfast taco, and the fried-to-order crispy taco, known as the taco dorado south of the border. In the Lone Star State, tacos stuffed with lengua, suadero, barbacoa, carnitas and other fillings are sold in gas stations, from walk-up windows, from kiosks, in check-cashing shops, everywhere. And if you insult another Texan’s favorite taco spot, by saying something like, “Fuel City tacos are trash,” you’re spoiling for a fight. Texans are sensitive about their tacos. Yet somehow—in Texas, at least—craft beer isn’t typically found in the best taco joints. While the craft beer movement has been steadily gaining traction in Texas, the last few years have seen a major growth in markets like Dallas. Last December, in a public ceremony complete with bridesmaids and groomsmen, a local cheesemonger even married a beer (Peticolas’ imperial red ale, Velvet Hammer, which is admittedly a great catch). So in an effort to bring the best of Texas tacos and beer together, I’ve begun creating my own beer and taco pairing rules. When I chomp an earthy taco de trompo—a chile- and achiote-marinated pork slowly roasted on a vertical rotisserie, shaved and studded with pineapple—I aim for an India pale ale with a citrusy punch, like my city’s own Deep Ellum IPA. Their brisk, acidic DNAs are a precise match.
When I go for a panko-crusted fish taco dressed with bright aioli from So-Cal Tacos—one of the best taco trucks around—I get it wrapped, and then I bolt to find the nearest growler of the award-winning Peticolas Royal Scandal, a crisp English-style pale ale brewed in Dallas. And the aforementioned Velvet Hammer, a sneaky, smooth red ale with a sturdy 9 percent ABV, is a perfect match for guisado verde, a signature taco at North Dallas’ La Nueva Fresh & Hot, with stewed pork doused in a combustible green sauce and wrapped in a housemade corn tortilla. If I could transport that taco outside Dallas, wherever I roam, I’d match it with a carousel of Texas suds: Real Ale’s hoppy Four Squared, Saint Arnold’s snappy Endeavor double IPA, and Jester King Craft Brewery’s nimble table beer Le Petit Prince.
While I’m in Austin visiting Jester King, I’d pair the brewery’s Mikkeller collaboration, Beer Geek Rodeo—a roasty, chipotle-steeped imperial oatmeal stout—with a sirloin taco drenched in Tacodeli’s zippy mole. And I can’t help but daydream about Ranger Creek’s Mesquite Smoked Porter, from San Antonio, alongside a traditionally smoked beef barbacoa (usually a whole cow head, smoked underground) threaded with earth-scented fat in a fresh, handmade tortilla, because, like smoke and meat, tacos and beer go hand in hand.
My hands will take hold of each somewhere soon. I’m dedicated to organizing a taco and beer pairing dinner in the Dallas area, even if I have to do it at my house with the aid of a local taco truck and a couple of kegs of hometown beer.