A few weeks ago Reed and I had some good friends over for a beer pairing dinner. It was pretty epic – Reed matched 8 different beers to a 3-course meal. Here’s the menu (links go to Beer Advocate).
1. Chipotle cranberry cheddar with Stone IPA
2. Scharfe Maxx (think Swiss & Gruyere) with Alaskan Smoked Porter
3. Prima Donna (gouda) with Alesmith Nautical Nut Brown
Grilled pork tenderloin with Green Flash and St. Feuillien Biere de L’Amitie
Grilled shrimp in jerk sauce with Green Flash and Founder’s Linchpin White IPA
Grilled squash, bell peppers and portobello mushrooms with Duvel
Raspberry fresh fruit pie with Green Flash Treasure Chest
Black bottomed cupcakes with Hess Ex Umbris
Turns out we have 11 unique tasting-size (~4oz) glasses, so each person had their own for the night, as long as they could remember which was there’s.
During the cheese course Reed also put out some sliced pineapple for trying along with the IPA, as he’d heard that the combination changes the flavor of the beer. In case you’re skeptical, I offer you this tidbit – I actually went back for seconds on the IPA, an up to that point unheard of phenomenon! The bitterness of the hops that dissuades me from liking a lot of beer was basically gone, leaving the smooth flavors to calm the bite of the chipotle in the cheddar. It was a very tasty combination.
I had also made bread using Stone smoked porter, which caved in a bit on top but had a delicious flavor, which is what counts.
I liked the Scharfe Maxx cheese well enough when I tried it in the shop, neither Reed nor I particularly like stinky cheeses but this one walked that fine line. Or it did until it was paired with the Alaskan smoked porter! After a sip of the delicious beer, the cheese tasted too stinky by far. Everyone in the group noticed the change, though most of our guests like stinky cheese and so had a positive response. I, however, could no longer eat the cheese – and the beer actually didn’t taste as good to me anymore either, it was a complicated mix of flavors that overwhelming reminded me of feet. It was a very strange phenomenon, and an example of the surprising fact that drinking beer while eating cheese caused me to like both less. In this case, two rights made a wrong – at least for me.
The last cheese and beer pairing was my favorite, a gouda with my favorite brown ale. Predictably, the beer brought out a deeper smoked and nutty flavor to the already delicious, though subtle, cheese. It was interesting, all standing around a table in my backyard, to discuss how each of us felt about the pairings and how we could all have such different reactions to the same combinations.
Next up we moved inside, Reed had grilled up an excellent selection of meats and veggies and this, more than the other courses, called for mixing up the pairings. The pork and shrimp had been marinating all day in garlic, balsamic vinegar and various herbs while I had made an orange juice and cinnamon concoction for the veggies.
Now this is about where I stopped taking notes, between my hostessing and drinking duties it was just not going to happen. I do remember really enjoying all of these beers, and also every aspect of the dinner. Reed held court at one end of the table doling out the beers in order while everyone enjoyed their meals. I think he chose very drinkable beers since he grilled dinner. It seems to be true for wines as well that the suggested pairings for grilled seafood and white meats are the ones you can also just enjoy a glass of by itself. I do remember wishing for 3 tasting glasses at this point so I could have tried all the beers on their own before eating.
After an extended period of time where we all shared our reactions, and then had time to digest (and go back for more beer), it was time for dessert! I made both desserts from favorite recipes from my mom’s kitchen. Up first, a fresh raspberry and cream pie in a graham cracker crust. I don’t make this pie for just anyone, you have to be somebody special in my life to get it.
Back when Reed worked at Green Flash they made and bottled this Belgian pale ale and he bought a case, opening one from time to time to see how it’s aged. It doesn’t seem too popular on Beer Advocate, with some people describing it as having a band-aid like taste (gross!), and even the people at the tasting room seem to have given up on it. Reed had requested that I make the fresh fruit pie specifically with raspberries, and for good reason it turns out. It was a fantastic pairing, and very popular with our guests as well. The beer itself gets more sour with age and has a fine flavor already in my opinion. But when paired with a perfect balance (if I do say so myself) of tart and sweet in the pie, it was downright delicious! The flavors blended together, making the beer taste fruitier and creamier than it had just moments before. And that was only the first round of dessert!
Next up was chocolate and cream cheese cupcakes with Hess’ stout. I like their stout well enough as is, it’s very rich and has bold chocolate and coffee notes. The general consensus was that it was the perfect complement to the cupcakes (which are also excellent unaccompanied). Even at the end of such an indulgent evening, more than one person went back for seconds on this combination. I have also decided that next time I visit Hess (which will hopefully be next week) I will bring a batch of these cupcakes with me to share with the other patrons. I should call ahead and make sure they’ll have the stout on tap…maybe even with nitro!
All in all, it was a wonderful evening full of mostly good surprises. I highly suggest you find yourself a group of friends who enjoy trying new things and talking about the experience, and host your own beer pairing dinner! Reed and I will definitely be hosting another round later this summer. Word to the wise – avoid going back for seconds on beer and food and you’ll enjoy the experience more (and it makes the next day much more pleasant).