Harpoon IPA and The Most Awesome Carrot Cake

I’ve written before about how challenging a dessert and beer pairing can be, especially when tasting a beer for the first time. In the craft beer world, however, there are some go-to partnerships that work excellently, despite not jumping out as obvious. Numerous sources have recommended carrot cake and IPA as one such tandem. Again, the beauty of this pairing is not immediately apparent. IPAs are not known for being the most welcoming of beers because of their strong bitterness. Neither is carrot cake a popular dessert, at least compared to the standard chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavors. Thus, this is more of a contrast-based pairing, as opposed to a match of complementary flavors.

I’ve always wanted to try this out, but there is a dearth of good carrot cakes in Metro Manila. I’ve heard that Coffee Bean used to have good carrot cake, but for some reason it’s been pulled off the shelves. Chocolate Kiss in UP Bahay ng Alumni serves a decent one, but I find the icing too sugary. Luckily, the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted is homemade. My brother’s girlfriend, a fashion blogger (whose site probably gets ten times more hits than this one), bakes the ultimate carrot cake using an heirloom family recipe. It’s top secret, but since we get a whole cake at home every now and then, I’m more than happy. It’s always a special occasion when we have carrot cake in the fridge. The cake itself is thick and moist, neither overly spongy or chunky, with the perfect level of sweetness and a touch of spice. The frosting is a rich cream cheese base, sprinkled with walnut bits for texture and balance — again not too sweet, and made even more decadent when topped with a dollop of their special cream sauce.

The IPA for this pairing came from a good friend whom I forced to bring home a couple bottles of beer after a visit to Boston. The best local breweries would probably be Boston Beer Company and Harpoon, and it was an IPA from the latter that I requested. The Harpoon IPA is definitive of the East Coast style – with a much more floral nose, stronger carbonation, better balance, and more subtle flavors than those from the California or Oregon. I consider East and West Coast IPAs as two distinct substyles of the American IPA category because of that very reason. The Harpoon was also a visually unique IPA – bright orange, with a light but billowing head and evident effervescence. It paints a picture of summer and the ocean – perfect for sipping on a lounge chair by the beach.

The two made beautiful music together. My favorite scene from the movie Ratatouille was the one where Remy explains to his brother how the combination of ingredients in food works through music. Pairing works in the same way – each element has its own tune, enjoyable and beautiful in itself. When combined properly, however, a symphony of flavors is produced that amplifies the experience. This is why I love good food and good drinks, and it is made even better when they come from good friends and family.

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