This is my year of trying new things. (Even if it CLEARLY is not my year of being a more prolific blogger.) I’ve started a new business. (I’m starting slowly and it’s going pretty well.) I’m trying to grow plants. (That’s not going so well.) And I’m expanding my culinary horizons: We’re eating more veggies that I normally wouldn’t bring into our house, thanks to my work on Holoholo General Store’s blog and newsletter. And I voluntarily drank a bunch of beer earlier this week.
What brought about this incredible turn of events? A tasting event for Foodland Hawaii for their new Poke Pau Hana campaign, which pairs 10 of Foodland’s poke* with 10 craft beers. When he got the invite, Shake didn’t tell me about the beer pairing part. At the door we were handed cute tasting note cards, so we could jot down our thoughts regarding the beers and poke and how they went together.
I turned to Shake, “This is a beer thing?!”
“Uh, yeah, but if I told you that, you wouldn’t have wanted to come.” He knows me so well. But I was determined to be a good sport and keep an open mind about objectively evaluating how the beers went with the poke.
During the welcome, we were advised that while the “research team” (comprised of Foodland staff and beer experts—Cicerones, actually, which is an actual certification for beer, like sommelier is for wine—from Southern Wine & Spirits) had spent a great deal of time and thought considering which beers to match with which poke, and they had been picked to complement or contrast with the specific poke flavors, we should still feel free to mix and match the options around.
Poke used to be something that, if you wanted “the good stuff,” you went to a neighborhood seafood store. (Our family always went to Masa & Joyce Fish Market in Temple Valley Shopping Center—it opened the same year I was born, and when it closed sometime in the past decade, my Dad sent me to go say “’bye” to Masa; I think we were both surprised by how old the other had gotten!) Some restaurants served poke for an appetizer, or maybe you had someone in the family who could make a mean batch.
Foodland really changed the game, though, when they started offering good-quality, tasty poke at their seafood counters. Word on the street is that some of the stores have staff who make special, only-at-their-store recipes, and take pride when customers say, “Yours is better than —– location!” For this event, Foodland brought in several of their seafood managers to prepare the poke fresh for us. Some folks like when the flavors have melded and mellowed a bit, but Shake and I prefer a fresher batch when the fish has more “bounce” and the marinades haven’t softened up the fish texture too much. But, to each their own.
The first pairing I tried was the Hawaiian-Style ‘Ahi Poke + Hitachino Nest White Ale. This turned out to be my favorite. I liked the sweet, floral crispness of the beer and how it contrasted with the nuttiness of the ‘inamona on the poke. It was exciting that the first beer I sampled was one I enjoyed!
Each plate had two poke on it. We started out both going to the same poke station and each getting one of the beers, but that lasted for exactly one round. At any rate, I had a sip of Shake’s Breakside Brewery Liquid Sunshine Pilsner, which went with the California Roll ‘Ahi Poke. This one had a crisp, citrusy taste that cut through the creaminess of the mayonnaise and avocado in this poke. (I also liked how the Hitachino went with this one. Let’s not lie: I liked how the Hitachino went with everything. It was definitely my find of the night.)
This was Shake’s favorite pairing of the evening. California Rolls used to be his go-to sushi choice, back in the day, so this was a fond taste memory for him. He said he liked how the beer stood out on its own, but didn’t mask the taste of the poke. This was the first pairing he tried, and he remarked that it really opened his eyes to the possibilities of the flavors of poke and craft beers playing off each other. “Poke and beer is always a winner. You can’t go wrong, it always tastes good,” he said. “But this really made me see how you can bring out flavors from the poke by picking the right the beer.”
Next up, the Spicy ‘Ahi Poke + Fat Tire Amber Ale and the Hawaiian-Style Mussel Poke + Ballast Point Grunion Pale Ale. The arrival of Fat Tire in Hawai‘i was received with much excitement from beer lovers. I can’t claim to understand the joy, but I thought it cut through the spiciness of the poke well, and it had a lovely, velvety mouthfeel when sipped to wash down the mayo-tossed poke.
The Ballast Point was another citrusy beer, this one with notes of orange. Shake was really into the mussel poke. He doesn’t even like mussels, generally speaking, but he went back for another serving at the end of the night.
So far, so good on this beer stuff. I didn’t hate anything, and none of it was so beer-y that I couldn’t finish the teensy pours I requested. Maybe I should move on to something more adventurous!
I stopped at the station serving Coedo Shikkoku Black Lager + Imitation Crab Salad. (OK, not a poke, but I’ll give Foodland a pass on including it in the pairing lineup, since they aren’t trying to call it a crab poke—they’re very clear about what it is.) Here, they also had Oyster Sauce ‘Ahi Poke + Belching Beaver Milk Stout. I hesitated between the beers and the Belching Beaver rep pounced. (He was really nice! And I liked that the staff were so eager to inform us about what we were drinking.) He gave me a detailed explanation of why it’s called a “Milk Stout,” even though there’s no actual milk in it: It has lactose (an unfermentable sugar which, of course, is associated with dairy products, hence the moniker “milk”) added to it. This gives the beer a bit of a, as the rep called it, “cream with coffee” taste and feel. It had a light sweetness and enhanced the saltiness of the oyster sauce—a nice, briny flavor. You know how the yummiest oysters have that oceany tang but they’re also sweet? It was like that. This beer is considered a good introduction to dark beers, if you’re apprehensive about them. I enjoyed it with the poke, certainly.
The Coedo Shikkoku was very malty and earthy. When sipped between bites of the Imitation Crab Salad, I felt there was some bread and butter-like action going on. Like, a very dark, rye bread spread with butter. It had a barley tea taste, as well. Interesting, but not something I’d drink a whole glass of. Still, I didn’t have my typical “Blecch, beer!” reaction.
The other reason this event was a real learning experience for both Shake and me was because we normally don’t get the creamy-style pokes. We kind of felt like the mayo would overwhelm and ruin the fish—what’s the point of masking the taste of the fish, when that’s what we enjoy about poke, right? But we were pleasantly disproven. I would be way more open now about adding one of the creamy-style options to a poke spread, especially because I found I enjoyed both the beer and that style of poke more together. I don’t know if we could get my dad on board, but you never know.
My fourth pair of pairings was the Kimchee-Style Shrimp Poke + Big Island Brewhaus Coconut Porter and the Limu ‘Ahi Poke + Gigantic “The Business.” (Sorry, if you want to see the bottles, you’ll just have to check Foodland’s site. But now you can see the nifty little tasting note cards.) And here we have my first, “Oh, geez, that tastes like beer!” I really can’t explain my aversion to the taste of beer. I feel it tastes musty and…well, just yucky. So it really is a big deal that I was enjoying how the beers paired with the poke at this event!
I think the Limu ‘Ahi Poke is my favorite of Foodland’s poke options. I love limu (seaweed). My first sip of Gigantic went from excitement—“Ooh! This tastes like moscato!”—to disappointment—“Oh, no, wait, it tastes like beeeeer! Ew!” It was uncanny. I took three more sips to confirm that yes, at the beginning, there was a sweet taste. Gigantic’s own site claims a “passionfruit hops” flavor, so I guess I’m not crazy. I was so distracted by this, and then saddened by the beery-ness that I ate all my poke to comfort myself and didn’t pay a lot of attention to how they went together.
The second pairing for the plate was also quite intriguing. The Coconut Porter really tastes like coconut. Not in a “I just licked a tourist” kind of way (my way of communicating that whatever I’ve eaten tastes like fake coconut, i.e. sunscreen), but like actual coconut. It wasn’t overwhelming, but I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not. I told another guest, “I can’t figure it out. I don’t not like it. But I don’t think I like it, either. I’m confused.” The beer, because of that coconut taste, was selected to go with the Kimchee-Style Shrimp Poke to play on the idea of coconut shrimp. I had a difficult time with the kimchee + coconut shrimp concept, but I think if the shrimp had been seasoned differently, I might have enjoyed it more as a pairing. (The poke itself was excellent.)
I saved the Hawaiian Style Tako Poke + Breakside Brewery Toro Red and Shoyu ‘Ahi Poke + Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale station for last because Shake had this one early on in the evening and said the tako (octopus) was really spicy. The Toro Red was also supposed to be spice-infused so I thought I should avoid burning out my taste buds until the end. So I sampled the Shoyu ‘Ahi and Sam Smith’s first. The note I wrote just says, “like beer ☹.” Meaning, this was a (to me) very beery beer. So I just ate all the poke. Shoyu ‘Ahi is like the introductory poke. It doesn’t have flavors that are too strong or unusual, just a nice salty, umami taste from the shoyu, some onion for a little bite and sesame seeds for a nutty element that’s not as earthy as ‘inamona. It’s a good go-to that’ll make anyone happy or a “safe” one to try for poke newbies.
So now we come to the tako and Toro Red. Dear readers, I failed to complete the whole pairing lineup. I sampled a piece and it was too spicy for me to enjoy. (We do get this poke at Foodland fairly regularly, and my family enjoys it. Honestly, the fact that it had just been made, which we liked for the fish poke, probably worked against it because the chili pepper flakes didn’t have time to mellow out.) Having declared that I wasn’t going to finish the tako, I asked Shake, “Is the [beer] that goes with this really spicy, too?” “Kinda,” he replied. “Not, like, super spicy, but you can tell it’s there.” “Would I like it?” He just eyeballed me. So instead I went back for another serving of my “little owl beer” (the Hitachino).
So there you have it, people. I drank beer and I kinda liked it.
Foodland is currently on Week Two of the Poke Pau Hana promotion (sorry, I didn’t get this up in time for Week One, which, funny enough, featured my little owl beer), with the Gigantic “The Business” on special. The beers seem to be going for about 30% off their regular prices, which is a pretty darn good deal. You can also pick up your own pairing cards at the seafood counters so you can work your way through all the combinations yourself.
I’d love to hear which pairing you like best!
*With the great Poke Craze of 2016 sweeping the nation, I probably don’t need to explain this, but poke (pronounced poh-keh) is a Hawai‘i dish of, usually, raw fish with seasonings—traditionally limu (seaweed), ‘inamona (kukui, or candlenut) and Hawaiian salt, but the use of shoyu (soy sauce) and green onion is also largely considered “traditional” though not Hawaiian, which is why I say it’s a “Hawai‘i” dish, not a “Hawaiian” one. Poke in Hawaiian means “to cut,” and many folks will tell you, “You can poke anything!” meaning that anything you can chop up and season can be considered poke. There’s debate over what constitutes an homage, a twist or an outright abomination perpetrated upon poke, but poke definitely shouldn’t be confused with sushi (which is Japanese and involves rice—although poke bowls are at the forefront of the trend, and they do incorporate rice, but they are not sushi either, however they clearly have a heritage line to chirashi, which does involve sushi rice and fish in a bowl), sashimi (also Japanese, also seafood, also predominantly raw, but sliced rather than cubed, and not tossed with seasoning), or ceviche/poisson cru (which marinate in citrus juice to partially “cook” the raw fish). You can now return to your regularly scheduled programming.
Disclosure: We were invited to attend this tasting event as guests of Foodland Hawaii and Southern Wine & Spirits. No financial compensation was received for this post and no representative from the host companies/event was given the opportunity to review or comment upon this post prior to publication.