Work with me here: Until recently, I assumed “March Madness” was a reference to Alice in Wonderland a la “as mad as a March hare.” Turns out its about college basketball, which, this time of year, enjoys its own pseudoscience in the form of Bracketology. Apparently, Bracketologists predict the winner of the annual National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament using – I’m presuming – that cousin of the parenthesis, the square bracket. Like so: [bracket]. Inasmuch as brackets are used to frame prospective matches between teams, it seems to me they can be used to pair off more than competitors. They could “bracket” potential complements too. Consider the "stunt pairings" trend of last decade, when all manner of foodstuffs and wines were pushed into a dark closet together as if at a teenage house party. Wine and McDonald's hamburgers were often thrown together, the thinking being that the combination of “high” and “low” culture could break the seventh seal and unleash the apocalypse. Exciting. Turns out it was just a waste of wine. And sometimes Big Macs.
Christopher “Sommelier to the Stars” Sawyer landed himself a profile in Esquire for successfully abstracting the concept by pairing wine with movies. Likewise, Sonoma music scribe J.M. Berry, a.k.a "Winotone," briefly paired wine and classic rock. Though he didn’t rate an Esquire profile, I’m sure if he’d stuck it out, Guitar Player Magazine might eventually have become his A.A. sponsor or something.
When it comes to food pairings that A) aren’t merely conceptual art and B) are edible, the benchmark was set in 1928 by H.B Reese when he recognized that chocolate and peanut butter could become something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s in this vein that I’ve recently began bracketing my own pairings in search of two great tastes that taste great together.
First there was the discovery that most Sonoma Coast Pinot noirs pair well with organic cashew nut brittle. Then I realized what a dick even thinking of that would make me sound. I dug deeper.
In my neighborhood in Oakland, besides the crime wave, we’ve been blessedly awash in a wave of Belgian Ale thanks to the recent opening of Trappist Provisions in Rockridge. This has improved the neighborhood in as many ways as they have world class ales on tap and by the bottle,which is to say immeasurably.
Likewise, I recently spied a contingency of beardos sharing a bag of pork rinds and discussing the finer points of mustache maintenance in nearby Temescal. This leads me to believe that following Belgian ale, pork rinds will be the next artisanal foods obsession. I also predict natural and organic varieties will soon appear and that we might see flavors like Truffle Salt, Curry and Cucumber and Chive entering the marketplace.
For that matter, I anticipate Belgian ales and pork rinds sharing a bracket as a favorite food mashup. To test this hypothesis, a representative of Rudolph Foods kindly sent a selection of their Southern Recipe brand pork rinds (Who could resist the slogan "Put some south in your mouth" as told by an animated bass in its online Man Cave?). I picked up a representative selection of Belgian ales from the Trappist and called singer-songwriter Orion Letizi with an invitation to jam (sucker). Here are our three March Madness brackets for Belgian Ale and Southern Recipe pork rinds (there were meant to be four but the first three impaired our note-taking):
Original Flavor vs. De Ranke Noir De Dottignies
Toasted malt, dried fruits and figs in dark chocolate with a splash of espresso and rum provide a nice counterpoint and hint of sweetness to the pleasant saltiness and old school umami undertones innate to pork rinds, bacon and pretty much all porcine products (you can thank your tongue’s L-glutamate receptors for turning you into a savory-seeking salivating zombie).
Sweet BBQ vs. Jack D'or
The Sweet BBQ flavor pork rinds are an addictive admixture of dulcitude and attitude (surely a southern notion) that stack up well with the Belgian style Jack D’or and its funkadelic floral notes and hoppy, citrus character (with a pinch of fresh cracked pepper and a kiss of honey). Half a bag and a bottle in and you’ll wonder if Cajuns are actually more Belgian than French.
As promised, these full-flavored pork cracklin’s deliver on both the adjectives on the bag, which, unsupervised, might result in a delightful oral inferno of heat and snap, crackle, pop. Counter with a creme rinse” of the Viven Blond, a malt-forward, hazy golden ale dominated by notes of green apple and a bitterness that won’t add to the bite.