beef jerky

Flights of Fancy: Beef Jerky Pairings

Most people are familiar with packing jerky for a camping or hunting trip or its benefits as a post-workout refuel, but many people don’t know just how easily you can incorporate beef jerky into any kind of party. Whether you’re trying to impress that Saudi prince who stopped by your yacht or you’re just entertaining the boys in the basement, jerky is the way to go.

While the charcuterie board typically comes to mind, our jerky wasn’t made for typical. So when putting together your next party, elevate the atmosphere by pairing jerky with drinks. Careful pairings, when done right, enhance how your palate experiences the flavors of the jerky. Beer, wine, and bourbon flights are popular ways to help patrons try different types of drinks without committing to a full glass, and you can do the same with jerky. But if a full glass is what you’re looking for, far be it from us to stop you from guzzling one (or five) down. 

Although it’s much easier to slap some jerky on the table and make everyone grab their own drink, pairing jerky with drinks isn’t difficult when you know the basics. And this post walks you through what to consider when creating jerky flights and how best to pair them with drinks for an impressive taste experience.

beef jerky

Pairing by Flavor Profiles

Jerky and biltong both offer a flavor versatility of which most food simply can’t compare, and both have a tantalizing range of flavors coupled with their texture, which makes them a great snack to pair with drinks. No matter what type of beverage you’re sipping, just be sure you balance the basic flavor profiles of your beef jerky offerings so that your party hits more than one note. The flavor profiles include:

  • Bitter
  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Salty
  • Umami

Because you can create endless combinations, stick with a few basic ideas, and jerky flights will be a hit every time no matter how you mix it up. You can use beer, wine, or bourbon to create your flights, so pair profiles like a pro by grouping complementing flavors:

  • Jerky with herbs or teriyaki flavors: This type of jerky may be savory but also may have some sweetness, so jerky that has herbs or teriyaki flavors pairs well with a pale ale. You’ll have strong flavors and fruity undertones that make a pale ale complement the flavors in your jerky. A robust red wine like a zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon harmonizes with the rich herby or teriyaki jerky, but if you’re working with bourbon, stick with bourbon that brings some earthy or oaky notes to the table.
  • Jerky with sweet flavors: When you have flavors like honey or sweet barbecue in your jerky, bring out your favorite IPA, which can balance the sweet jerky with its bitterness. American lagers or pilsners work well if you want to evoke the taste of a backyard barbecue. When it comes to wine, a cabernet or merlot can offset the sweet flavors, and a smoky bourbon complements the sweetness nicely.
  • Jerky with peppery or smoky flavors: Peppery and smoky flavors balance nicely with a fruity IPA or a refreshing light lager. If you want to serve wine, you can’t go wrong with a Riesling or a dark berry Syrah. Just stay away from peppery spirits or serve your favorite sweet bourbon alongside this jerky.
  • Jerky that is spicy: When you bring the heat with your meat, choose drinks that don’t finish too dry. In terms of beers, you have a couple of directions you can take. Amber ales and pale ales work well with spice, but a milk stout can offer the silky mouthfeel you need after a hit of heat. While a dry red wine might work for smoky foods with a touch of heat, truly spicy foods don’t work well with dry wines. However, a wine that finishes sweet gives the relief you need. Try an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer, which works well with complex, spicy food. Unfortunately, bourbon will enhance the heat and spice of food, so if you’re serving a flight of bourbon paired with jerky, you’re better off using another drink option for this category.

beef jerky

Planning the Presentation

Just like beer flights at a local brewery, you can dress the experience up or down, depending on what atmosphere you’re trying to create. You definitely want to organize your beef jerky flights like a building process, so that your guests ramp up with something mild and savory and then end by taking off into a world of spice and heat. But other than the progression, you can work the presentation however you like for either a high-end or low-key feel.

  • Casual: If you’re just having a casual gathering, you can set the flight up like a buffet so that guests can work their way down the table and help themselves. This works well when you want a simple setting that encourages conversation or when you’re having a group over to watch or participate in an event. From hosting draft day for your virtual football league or getting together on gameday to a chance to catch up with friends, a casual set-up is easy to throw together at a moment’s notice.
  • Elevated: If you want a more formal feel, put together an event where the flights are the focus. Keep it seated and outside distractions at a minimum. Then be sure to serve the pairings along with a description of what guests can expect to taste or feel with each option. A more formal gathering is your chance to show off the great new beer, wine, or bourbon or to have guests try more unique options.

Regardless of how formal you plan for your party to be, you can create tempting beef jerky flights paired with any kind of drink you like. From beer or wine to bourbon, you can make a success of your next party by knowing the flavor profiles of your jerky as well as your drinks. Keeping the profiles in balance and ensuring you have each taste element available to your guests is the best way to pull off an impressive flight without much fuss.

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