Sunset wine editor Sara Schneider applies her honed palate to the pedestrian potato chip. The beers (and wines) that measured up.

A month in the life of a wine editor includes the requisite trips to Napa, Willamette Valley, and France, plus tasting an ungodly amount of wine. But the job can run past the enviable to the ridiculous sometimes too. During her time as Sunset’s wine guru, Sara Schneider has been asked to pair wines with everything from cupcakes to Skittles—and game wine pro that she is, she always gives it a go.

Last week, the request veered away from wine and into Homer Simpson’s beloved territory: Beer and chips. The mission: Find the best beer to pair with three Kettle Chip flavors. This called for bringing in resident beer expert, travel editor Nino Padova, to help find the best combos.

Sounds like a tough job. How’d you decide which chips to try?

Sara: We wanted to go with the staple chip flavors: BBQ, jalapeño, sea salt and vinegar—nothing too silly or esoteric like blue cheese.

Nino: It is a strange thing to eat a chip in this erudite way.Sara: True. But I have to say, it made me like chips and beer even better.

Were there any really bad combinations?

S: Hoppy beers and BBQ chips are not good together. I thought hops would pair well with the salt of potato chips (the bitterness of hops can help beer pair well with food, like the acidity in wine does), but people are going over the top with hops these days and the hoppier beers just overpowered the chips.

N: We also tried tangerine beer. It just tasted—

S: —it made the chip taste fake. It was all wrong.

N: The stouts we had didn’t seem right. They were heavy,  full of chocolate and coffee notes that overpowered the chips. A drier, Irish-style stout might’ve fared better. Of all the beers we tried—and there were several—we found Lagunitas to make the best all-around chip beers.

Interesting. What were the winning pairings?

Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Ale: “This is a wheat-ish-type beer,” says Nino. Sara runs with the pairing: “The malt was more prominent, with a sweet edge that matched the sweetness of the BBQ chip.”

Lagunitas Pils: “This light-but-still-interesting pilsner was seamless with the salt and vinegar chips,” says Sara. Nino’s take: “The pils was fresh and almost briny, and the salt and the sour vinegar on the chips needed its high acidity.” “Maybe this is your salad beer,” concludes Sara.

Lagunitas IPA: “It’s a totally balanced beer,” says Sara. “Neither the malt nor the hops sticks out in any direction, which gave it the guts to handle the jalapeños.” “Well,” says Nino, “It was only ok with the jalapeño chips in my book. I’m not sold on jalapeños and hops.” Sara: “Maybe fresh jalapeños? Think of them sprinkled on nachos …”

And what if you just really hate beer?

Sara: Go sparkling wine all the way—I’m serious! The crisp bubbles are fantastic with a salty chip. I like a Blanc de Blancs, which is made out of only Chardonnay.  Schramsberg’s Blanc de Blancs is a dynamite chip wine—kind of a high-low split.

What’s the biggest takeaway?

Sara: Don’t skimp on your chips. Or your beer.

And why were Sara and Nino on the trail of beer and chip pairings anyway? Kettle Chips will be serving up the winning pairings at Sunset Celebration Weekend, June 1 & 2. Come test out their beer and chip acumen yourself!

Next week: Wines that hold up to spicy foods.  

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