Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Beer O'Clock: Pairing

J.P. Fournier is a multi-talented fellow: DJ, event organizer, and beer maker. And this weekend, he performed all three tasks with a panache that seemed effortless.

On Sunday and Monday, the Ottawa Beer TAP Society founder and president of the National Capital Craft Beer Week (and his fiancée, Trish Watson), hosted the eighteenth beer and food pairing dinner.

J.P. started making beer about three years ago, and about six months later he started hosting the food-pairing event. This time, with the help of the folks at The Copper Pot Café and Catering, about 20 members of the Ottawa Beer TAP Society were treated to a six-course extravaganza.

J.P. organized and hosted the event, made the beer, and provided the music for the evening. At the start of the event, J.P. asked the guests to complete the provided tasting notes sheet and rate the beers on a scale of 1 to 10.

My wife, Lori, and I were greeted by J.P. and Trish and offered a mulled pumpkin porter (ABV 8%). The hot beverage was a clear brown with no carbonation or head: a cinnamon stick was placed in the glass to add extra spice. On the nose, I caught toffee-cake aromas and spice, with a hint of sweetness. In the mouth, distinct raisin and spice flavours ended with a toffee finish. It was a unique way to have beer.

I gave this mulled beer a score of 8 out of 10. I would drink this hot beverage any day over mulled wine, especially because it contained no nuts or dried fruit.

The first dish was a whole-wheat couscous and organic quinoa fritters with Brussels sprouts, beets, and a sweet pickled aioli. While I found the fritters a little dry, the Brussels sprouts and aioli mixed nicely with them (I typically don't like Brussels sprouts, but they were split up into individual leaves and only lightly warmed: they tasted great). And while I don't like beets, I did take a couple of bites to marry the appetizer with the paired beer.

The beer was J.P.'s Cranberry Wheat (ABV 4.7%), which was the colour of ruby-red grapefruit juice and cloudy. The nose revealed candied orange with a white, effervescent head that dissipated fairly quickly. In the mouth, I detected a slightly tart cranberry with tangerine fruit and a clean, fresh finish.

I described this wheat ale as "Orange Crush for adults." While it wasn't nearly as sweet as the orange soda, it was very flavourful and was a perfect summer beverage.

My score: 7 out of 10.

The second course was a braised beef brisket in a savoury chocolate barbecue sauce with whipped sweet potatoes and roasted baby carrots. The beef was succulent, juicy, and flavourful, though I didn't taste any chocolate. It was a rich dish and I was thankful that the portion wasn't too large. It was delicious, especially with the creamy, smooth sweet potato.

The dish was paired with an Irish stout that J.P. called "Guinnish" (ABV 3.3%), as it was made in the tradition of Guinness. This stout was brewed with sour wort, which gives the beer a sour flavour. Guinnish is a dark cocoa brown with a fine, brownish cream head, much like Guinness. On the nose, the sourness comes through and gave me impressions of yogurt.

In the mouth, the sourness was full-force, backed with rich malts. For me, the sourness was a bit overpowering and did not exactly marry with the beef, though the sauce helped cut the sourness. The finish was very short and light.

For me, Guinnish rated a 6. I love stout, but this one did not meet my expectations. Sorry, J.P.

Next, we were treated to maple-fried pork belly with green beans and a sweet-and-sour cabbage slaw. The outside of the pork was crispy and flavourful; the inside juicy and delicious. And while I don't typically like green beans, these were crisp and fresh. The "slaw" was tangy and complemented the dish.

Unfortunately, the beer didn't. We were served a Belgian wheat ale (ABV 4.7%), called Quat??? (J.P. added the question marks, not me). The beer was delicious but didn't pair particularly well with the food.

The colour displayed a light, yellow grapefruit colour and held an unfiltered cloudiness. The nose was an attractive pear with tones of pineapple. On the palate, I tasted distinct yeast, light grapefruit, and orange citrus. Again, this would make a refreshing summer patio beer.

I gave this pairing a score of 5: the dish was delicious, the beer was good. However, together I found that the pork, and especially the "slaw," blew the beer away. With a mouthful of the dish, the flavours of the ale were reduced to water.

Having read the menu in advance, I was really looking forward to the next dish. The food sounded exquisite, the beer was one of my favourite styles. We were treated to pumpkin and squash perogies with roasted onions and a chive crème. It was delicious, though I found the crème a little rich. But this was one of my favourite dishes of the evening.

Paired with this dish was J.P.'s Pumpkin Nut Porter (ABV 6.9%), the un-mulled version of our first beverage. Deep brown with a creamy head, this porter offered a distinct pumpkin and spice nose. In the mouth, I tasted raisin and a slightly burned sugar flavour. In the finish, I sensed a mild espresso.

While the pork in the previous dish overpowered the wheat ale, I felt the porter sometimes overpowered the perogies. I had to balance the beer in the mouth with the amount of crème on my fork to achieve a decent pairing. And when I did, I loved it.

Out of 10, I gave this course a 9.

The next course featured a pan-seared cod filet in a citrus buerre blanc, with arugula and shaved fennel and pear. I had to be careful because I'm allergic to pear, and so I gave those parts of my salad to Lori.

The cod was moist and flaky, and melted in my mouth. The sauce was lightly lemony and was delicious. And the dish married perfectly with the beer, a gruit ale.

Called Sage Gruit (5.6%), J.P. was inspired by Beau's Bog Water, which doesn't use hops and, therefore, cannot truly be called a beer. And while Sage Gruit didn't remind me of Bog Water, I loved it nonetheless.

Copper-amber in colour, this brew was clear (if memory serves me, Bog Water looked like... well... bog water). On the nose, I detected a distilled aroma—whisky or cognac—with herbs: specifically, sage. Inhaling the aromas through the nose, my sinuses cleared up and I felt a slight burning at the back of the throat.

On the palate, the sage continued and mixed with ginger, and was slightly sweet. The finish offered a complex licorice. This was an awesome drink served with a fantastic dish. The pairing, I said, was perfect.

I gave the gruit an 8 out of 10.

The final dish was dessert. I showed you a picture of it yesterday. Let me show it again because it was awesome. It was a homemade apple cider cream pie with a caramel sauce and apple chips (shaved, dried apple). I couldn't eat the chip that stood up in my pie like a flag because I'm terribly allergic to apples. I can eat apples if they're very well cooked: dried apple isn't cooked apple.

But the rest of the pie was to die for. Rich and creamy; sweet, but not too sweet. And the crust was flaky and perfect.

To match, J.P. presented a Black Harvest Ale (ABV 5.2%), a black American Amber-APA blend. The hops for this ale, Zeus and Cascade, were hand-picked by J.P. himself. Half of the hops were grown in his back yard; the others were picked (with permission) from the Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware.

Coffee-brown in colour with a delicate, lacy head, this black IPA delivered beautiful, intense citrus hops. The palate picked up deep, grapefruit and hops flavours with a malty nut finish that lingered and blended perfectly with the pie.

It was heaven: and for that, I gave it a perfect 10. I could drink this beer any day, all day long.

To finish, we were treated to an aperitif that was a black IPA liqueur (ABV 25%). J.P. learned this recipe from the owner of a pub in Berlin and presented his impression. Deep toffee coloured, there was a date nose with a hint of coffee. Drinking this liqueur, I was reminded of a warm, tawny port and Kahlua. Despite the high alcohol level, there were no legs on the sides of the glass and the alcohol did not dominate the drink.

It was a true treat. I didn't rate it, but I did love it all the same.

My thanks go to J.P. and Trish, who presented a memorable dinner experience with some lovely food and interesting beer. While not all of the dishes paired particularly well, the dishes and beer were all good on their own. J.P. is a great brewer, who I feel privileged to call friend.

And the next time he organizes a beer-pairing dinner, I'll be back. And I strongly recommend that you go too.

I also want to thank Garth and Ellen for the company at our table. 

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