India Pale Ale: Currently the hottest beer style in America. But do you know the origins? Although it’s deeply rooted in myth, the general story was to fortify the British occupation of India with pale ale, which was well received due to India’s balmy weather. More than 180 years later, the style is still growing around the globe, yet still seems a rarity at local Indian food restaurants, until now.
The Clay Oven in Irvine is no stranger to beer. Executive chef and co-owner Geeta Bansal is somewhat giddy about not only having a beer, but she also confesses, “I enjoy cooking with it, especially sour beer, as it lends a wine-like acidity.” The beer program, all bottles, is curated by chef Geeta’s son, Tarun, who thoroughly enjoys keeping an extensive bottle list. “We just added everything to Taphunter, which not only has brought in more people, it makes my job easier to keep track of everything.” The list is balanced with a blend of classic imports and fresh local beer.
Noticing they offer the IPA of one of O.C.’s newest breweries, Unsung Brewing, I put them to the task: What Indian dish pair best with Unsung Anthia IPA? Since the beer’s release, I’ve gone back to it multiple times, noting its dryness, tropical overtones, and fluffy meringue-like head. “I think it will pair nicely with our habanero pork vindaloo,” says Tarun. I had my doubts, as IPA can stoke the spice in a dish, but quickly changed my mind on the first bite. Hops in the beer accentuate the umami experience, not only cleansing the palate, but adding a tropical feel, making me daydream of summer vacation, eating spiced meats, perhaps in a hot tub.
As if gleaming cubes of tender, curry-coated pork in vindaloo sauce weren’t enough, the most interesting take on pub Brussels sprouts landed table-side. “Our Choti Gobhi should also pair well with Unsung’s IPA,” says Tarun, smiling. Bursting with bright green and yellow color, the little cabbagy-nuggets are firm, smothered in masala, and ripe with tropical aromatics. Hints of coconut and grains of paradise keep me going back for more, sipping the beer, eating a few more, then sipping…until both are gone.
Check out Unsung Brewing at the O.C. Brewer’s Guild Fest, happening Saturday June 11 at 5 p.m. Saturday at Fullerton Arboretum. Stay tuned for their taproom opening soon in Anaheim, adjacent to the Packing House.
The Clay Oven is at Jeffrey and Irvine Center Drive in Irvine.