Ferguson Brewing Company's Smoked Chicken Wings, $8.99
The classic American hot wings are considered bar fare, perhaps even just a snack to gnaw on while guzzling pitchers of beer. But more and more, brew houses and gastropubs are making this dish more than just an expected appetizer, using both technique and complex flavors to elevate and entice.
Although it's usually more about the sauce than the savory meat, Ferguson Brewing throws in an extra twist - smoking the drummies before tossing them in their house buffalo sauce, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth, fall-off-the-bone texture. Now back to the sauce. Rich and spicy but not extraordinarily hot, the glaze costs each piece without being drenched. In general, this dish poses a rather simple attack - a slap of smoky sweetness followed by a steady surge of fire.
Wings, with their brash, albeit tasty, flavors, need one of two things: an equally brazen drink to tackle them or a contrasting sip to cool the heat. When pairing with wings and, let’s be honest, eventually your lips and fingers, it is important to decide which end of the spectrum suits you.
Belgo-Merican Pale Ale, Ferguson Brewing, St. Louis, $4 by the pint
Conventional pairing wisdom in the beer world suggests that malty beers tame heat while hoppy ones enhance it. But that has not always been my experience. In fact, I believe I get the best of both worlds with a brew that strikes a balance between the two. This Belgian pale ale, a "mash-up" of sorts for the brewery, is an American-style pale ale brewed with Belgian yeast. Smooth the way through, bitter hops meet caramel-like maltiness and finishes with an ever-so-slight hint of fruity sourness. With the wings, the beer accentuates the spice of the sauce just enough before washing it away in refreshing manner.
2010 Stone Hill Steinberg White, Hermann, $5.50 by the glass
Although it may not be your first inclination, do not count wine out as a possible and highly enjoyable pairing. Wings, by nature, are a casual food, so you want an extremely approachable wine. Easy drinkers that showcase bright fruits on the palate and have body but not necessarily too much complexity. First and foremost, the wine must be able to compete with that sauce clinging to every wing. This semi-dry, German-style white is produced by blending local varieties Vidal Blanc, Seyval and Vignoles and exhibits similar attributes to a Riesling or Piesporter. Lush fruit with notable natural sweetness, the wine gives a distinct variation to the fiery sauce, never quite extinguishing the flame but providing breaking moments of palate rejuvenation.
Imperial IPA, Ferguson Brewing, St. Louis, $4 by the pint
Now I know there are plenty of heat lovers out there. The hotter the better, right? While I've never been one to blow out my palate for the love of all things spicy and hot, I do appreciate piquant flavors that still allow me to taste the many facets of my meal. So, on the final end, I explore what could be the most blazing of Ferguson's pairings, the beloved IPA. As I mentioned before, the hoppier the brew, the more scorch of the sauce. This Imperial has a spicy, dry-hopped bitterness that exemplifies the goal of buffalo wings - pure zest and zing. I will also note that this beer was the most successful in highlighting the smoked nature of the chicken wings as well.
Ferguson Brewing Company, 418 South Florissant Road, Ferguson, 314.521.2220, fergusonbrewing.com
Every Wednesday, STLwinegirl Angela Ortmann helps you navigate wine and beer lists at restaurants around town and suggests the best by-the-glass pairings with certain dishes. Through her event and consultation business, she is dedicated to enhancing your food and wine experience. Missed one of her columns? Check them out here.