I have fond memories of playing the original NES version of Punch-Out! as a child. Many of them involve tears. The sweet tears of frustration that old school games supplied so handily. I don't think I ever made it farther than Soda Popinski, but damn it, I tried. I've wanted to play the Wii version ever since it was released last year, and I finally got my hands on it a couple of days ago. The newest version of Punch-Out! (Yes, I insist on using the exclamation point every time) is very similar to the original. It is challenging, and contains the same brand of ridiculous ethnic stereotypes. Thankfully, it does not try to have you use any newfangled special moves. The game is all about learning the movements of your opponents, and then wrecking their face.
After playing it for a while the other night, I found myself at a loss when trying to come up with a pairing for it. I received advice from several people, most of which involved pairing the game with very strong liquor. I resisted these suggestions, as Punch-Out! is a game of finesse. Countering the brutal attacks of your foes with nimble jabs is an essential aspect of the game, and I wanted the pairing to reflect this. I found myself at one of Chicago's more comprehensive liquor stores, wandering the aisles while humming the game's classic 8-bit tune that plays while Little Mac is running around New York in his pink sweatsuit.
I want to digress for a moment here to discuss some of the theory behind the art of playing video games and booze. As we all know, some of my pairings are based on naught but shallow connections and mutual superficialities. I try to avoid pairing dark games with dark beers, hard games with hard liquor, etc. soley because of these common descriptors, but sometimes I do it anyway because it just seems right. I prefer, however, to ascend to greater thematic heights. Sure, Stone Smoked Porter and Diablo II: Lord of Destruction are both dark in their own ways, but the pairing worked well because the beer made me feel like I could taste the acrid (no offense, Stone) smoke of hell as I journeyed through its depths. Also, ale styles of British origin are just natural fits for fantasy games.
There are other pairings that occur for no discernible reason at all. As an experienced video game and booze pairer, I may be better able to rely on instinct than some, but it does not always work out as well as I hope. Fortunately, tonight's pairing worked out just fine. As I walked through the liquor store, singing to myself, my eyes settled on a selection of beers from Ayinger. Ayinger has long been my favorite German brewery. Every beer I've had from them (mostly wheat beers) has been extremely well done. I noticed the Altbairisch Dunkel, which I had never had before. I thought to myself "Why would you pair this with Punch-Out!?" to which I replied, "I don't know, but it's about to happen, so shut up."
Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel is an old-style Munich dark lager. It pours a clear reddish brown, with a lovely head and a nice, malty aroma. Up front, one tastes a surge of caramel and raisins, which quickly fades into a long, roasty, dry finish. The beer is light in body, but rich in flavor. It is simultaneously quite refreshing and quite complex.
Altbairisch Dunkel was a good match for Punch-Out!, not least of all because it quenched my thirst while providing a lengthy and delicious finish. The game is not like Mega Man 2, where I can literally drink and play at the same time. Once a bout starts, it demands my full attention until the bell rings. Taking the occasional sips between rounds was a great strategy, as the flavor kept on going after I put my glass down. The beer is light enough that it did not hurt my reflexes. It is earthy, and tastes subtly of iron, which reminds me of blood. Drinking it while playing Punch-Out! was wonderful, and surprisingly appropriate. It also provided an important lesson on pairing video games and booze; while sometimes useful, logic and reason have no certain place in the performance of this art. I'll do well to keep that in mind in the future.