Last Sunday evening was spent enjoying a beer pairing dinner presented by HopCat Grand Rapids and Dogfish Head Brewery. While I try to be an adventurous eater when it comes to special dinners, many beer pairing dinner menus have a few too many parts that I can’t get around to actually attend. Which is a shame because they can be a great way to try new beers, learn about the beers/the brewery and understand better how beer can be paired with a meal, much like wine. Thankfully we did attend this one after reading the fabulous menu. All expectations were met, if not exceeded by this smart pairing of excellent food prepared by the chefs at HopCat with an exquisite beer.
For those who have never been to a pairing dinner before, what usually happens is this. Diners are seated at communal tables in a one section of the restaurant hosting the meal. A representative from the brewery (or winery, distillery, etc.) is usually present to introduce each course and talk about the drink being paired with the meal and why as well as sharing knowledge about the brewery itself. The rep also comes around to the tables throughout the meal to answer any questions one may have. Like I said, a great way to learn more about beers you already love or taste something new.
The first course was a cold cucumber and honeydew gazpacho served with a Festina Peche. The soup was a refreshing start on a hot evening. Lots of flavor from the honeydew, which I don’t normally like, but found lovely when paired with the Festina Peche. This beer is a Berliner Weiss which is normally considered a “sour” beer but the natural peach flavors give this a sweetness that doesn’t overpower the beer.
Course Two started with Namaste, a witbeir made with dried orange slices, lemongrass and coriander. A witbier is an excellent summer sipper as they are usually light and low in ABV but still full of flavor. The Namaste is one of my favorites of this style. The orange and coriander always stand out for me. The food pairing was a chicken satay skewer with lemongrass mustard greens and a peanut sauce. Here is where we start to see the food pairing at work. A few bites of the lemongrass mustard greens and then a sip of Namaste and my mouth was exploding with the lemongrass in the beer. A great way to showcase one of the main ingredients in this beer.
Now we get to the main course of the meal which I had been looking forward to the most. Grilled salmon with citrus habanero salsa and hopped haricot vert. I very recently decided to give salmon a try after 30 plus years of insisting it was not for me. Now I can’t get enough of it. This preparation did not disappoint. The fish was cooked perfectly and the salsa helped bring out the sweetness of the fish. The haricot vert were so expertly prepared even my husband ate some! (I haven’t ever seen him eat green beans in our 12 years together.) Oh yeah, the beer! The salmon was paired with Dogfish’s well known 60 Minute IPA. The hoppy, grassy flavor of the beer is light enough to complement the salmon, not overpower it. Like salmon, IPA is a beer style that I used to say I don’t like. But now my palate is evolving to learn that not all IPAs are created equal. I have found that it usually depends on the hop variety used in the beer that makes a difference to my palate. However, this beer is made with over 60 varieties of hops. It is an IPA that I could enjoy again and again, so apparently multiple hop varieties is the magic formula?
And finally, dessert! Again I found myself sipping on the beer before the food arrived as the Palo Santo Marron is a brew that can’t be ignored. A unique brown ale that is aged in tanks built from Palo Santo wood. No, I didn’t know what that meant either, let me tell you what I learned! Palo Santo is the hardest wood, almost bulletproof, from Paraguay. Unlike traditional oak barrels that bring out a lot of vanilla notes, palo santo brings a lot of caramel and spicy notes. At 12% ABV, it is slightly boozy but still smooth and not too overpowering. The pairing of the Palo Santo with a Gingerbread cookie and Madagascar Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Sandwich was a perfect way to end the meal. The spicy notes of the beer were more pronounced with each bite of the gingerbread cookie. I only wished I had had another one to keep enjoying the combination.
What are some of your favorite beer and food pairings?