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Craft beer and burger pairings are like a French kiss in your belly

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 by Brentney Hamilton

DALLAS — It all started with an abandoned pair of blue jeans. Smashburger founder Tom Ryan was visiting Dallas from Denver in order to determine which local brewery would match best with his fast-casual gourmet burger line. As he walked up to Deep Ellum Brewing Company one fateful morning, a single pair of forlorn jeans lay alone on the sidewalk outside.

“I thought, ‘Somebody blew out their f*ckin’ jeans,'” Ryan said at a Beer and Burgers tasting at Smashburger’s newest location in Coppell on March 19. “I knew these guys were going to be fun.”

Personality was just one element Ryan was looking for when choosing a brewery to work with. He also needed one that was already canning and/or bottling, and that had an established “vibe,” with a palpable electronic footprint, he said. A big social media following, after all, means that a brewery in question has staying power. Smashburger has already tested this local-brews-and-burgers pairing plan in a number of cities throughout the country, and when it came to Dallas, Deep Ellum Brewing Company fit the bill.

From its punk-rock-poster styled graphics to its established year-round lineup, Ryan said DEBC had the look, the taste, and the cocky attitude. Ryan is a food scientist and holds a Ph.D. in Flavor and Fragrance Chemistry (really) — and his resume contains such credits as “inventor of stuffed crust pizza” and “entrepreneur behind the McGriddle” (really).

“I fell in love immediately [with DEBC],” Ryan said. “I joined these guys because we share a certain fearless confidence. We know what we have is unique and special, and we can appreciate that in others.”

Ryan worked with the Deep Ellum crew to perfect the pairing suggestions which, as one might expect from a scientist, was a process of trial, error, and pleasant mistakes.

“We really took it seriously,” said Deep Ellum Brewing Company “Sales and Brand Ninja” Tait Lifto, who sat down at Smashburger Coppell after the formal tasting presentation with a can of Dallas Blonde. “Can you tell?”

In fact, the pairings seemed as complex and thoughtful as one might expect from a high-end wine or Scotch tasting. Many burger and beer combos sang with unexpected notes and complementary accents.

Here’s how they stacked up:

Classic Smash + Dallas Blonde — Probably the most classic, unoffensive of all options, this creamy and mild burger mixes nicely with the light and simple session beer.

Mushroom Swiss Burger + Double Brown Stout — The most complex combination, salty and powerful garlic explodes on your tongue and is washed away with the sweet, milk chocolaty stout. It’s a real brain bender.

BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar Burger + Rye Pils — Texas barbecue sauce with salty bacon and the lemony Pils gives three-dimensional flavor.

Avocado Club Burger + Dallas Blonde — As Tom Ryan put it, this burger “makes no logical sense.” There’s no cheese, and it has healthy overtones (a multi-grain bun and avocado) mixed with decadent bacon and mayo. “It’s a weird concept. Somehow it tastes clean and fresh but, also hearty,” Ryan said. Which is prefect, since Dallas Blondes aren’t exactly known for prizing logic.

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With grilled garlic jalapenos, this burger bites back. Luckily, DEBC’s Pils gently hugs your tongue like a protective mother.

Jalapeno BBQ Burger + Rye Pils — Take heed: Smashburger does not remove the seeds from their jalapenos. Those who can’t take the heat might avoid this burger, but they’d be missing out. Especially since the easy, sessionable Pils is a good cure for fire tongue.

Spicy Veggie Black Bean Burger + Deep Ellum IPA — One of the biggest surprises on the Smashburger menu might well be the veggie burger, which even meatatarians might appreciate. While not yet a big seller — Ryan said this only counts for a couple percent of Smashburger’s overall sells — the black bean patty has a depth of flavor, but doesn’t try to imitate meat or be something its not. With Deep Ellum’s signature IPA, one of the brewery’s top sellers, it’s an odd couple that just works.

Cucumber & Goat Cheese Chicken Sandwich + Dallas Blonde — Like a Greek salad on a bun, this sandwich does something that many burger competitors just can’t do: make grilled chicken appealing. Cooked well, the chicken is juicy and tender, not at all tough or overdone, and the rich goat cheese kicks up its milder flavor even more. Paired with the subdued Blonde, it’s an option for those looking for something a bit quieter that still carries integrity.

Crispy Buffalo Chicken Sandwich + Deep Ellum IPA — Fried chicken, bleu cheese, Buffalo sauce, and an IPA: This pairing is in your face and takes no prisoners. Not for the faint of heart.