Monday, November 26, 2012

Beer O'Clock: Ten & Then Some

Brewmaster Joel Manning

"Give a man a beer," he started, quoting his wife, "and he'll waste an hour."

"Teach the man to brew," he continued, "and he'll waste a lifetime."

Joel Manning has hardly wasted his life.

As Mill Street's brewmaster, Joel has made some amazing beer and has raised the Canadian craft-beer industry to unparallelled limits. And last Thursday, he shared his knowledge and some of his great creations with 100 guests at the tenth-anniversary brewmaster's dinner at Ottawa's Mill Street Brew Pub.

Joel, in addition to being a master brewer, is also entertaining and knowledgeable, sharing his wisdom behind beer and giving samples of some Mill Street creations that were available only at this pairing with some culinary genius. We also partook in some vintage barley wine (yes, it's beer too). The brewmaster's dinner was a 10-course evening that paired 10 beers: some of which I made notes; others, I didn't because I have either reviewed them in the past or have spoken about as favourites of mine and needed no further praise.

Sparkling Ale
The evening started out with a light beer: Sparkling Ale. This is an easy-drinking beer and it was appropriate for us to begin the dinner with it: it cleansed the palate and got us ready for our amuse bouche. Deep gold with a white head, I detected mild notes of fresh bread and hops. On the palate, this ale is clean and has a short finish.

Our amuse bouche was an interesting starter: elk tartar with juniper berries and herbs on crostini. While I enjoyed this course, my description of the elk doesn't sound appealing: there was a sliminess that coated the tongue and made everything slide down. The herbs were a great balance to the beer and the food and drink were a great match. I liked the elk and would have it again, but I'm not sure I would seek it out in the future.

Elk tartar
Organic Lager
The second course gave us a popular beer by Mill Street: their Organic Lager. Pale straw in colour with a white head, I detected buttered popcorn on the nose and a slight malt in the mouth, ending with a short, light finish. it is the first beer that Mill Street ever made.

This beer was paired with a shaved asparagus and fennel salad with baby arugula and grape tomatoes. The dressing was a citrus vinaigrette with orange wedges and pine nuts. Although I don't tend to like asparagus, I didn't taste them in this shredded fashion and I enjoyed this salad. I did, however, find the citrus in the vinaigrette to be a little strong for the lager, but this was a fresh course that I would gladly eat again.

Salad course
Dopple Pils
Third up was a Dopple Pils. Amber-gold in colour with a thin, white head, I didn't get much off the nose. In the mouth, however, I was immediately hit with big hops and flavours of grapefruit, with a strong (but not overpowering) alcohol finish. This was a strong beer, at 7.2 percent ABV.

The food pairing was awesome: a Thai-inspired shrimp and scallop ceviche in coconut water with Thai chillies, lime juice, Thai basil, and an infusion of kaffir lime.

Seafood ceviche
This was an amazing appetizer. Lori, who isn't a seafood lover, thoroughly enjoyed this course. We both found that it married well with the hops of the pilsner. Awesome course.

Next came the first of three barley wines: this one, from 2005. This seven-year-old ale was the colour of iced tea, with a hint of red. There was no head. A brandy-cherry bouquet reminded me of a liqueur, rather than a beer. In the mouth, all thoughts of beer left my head. At 10.5 percent ABV, this was a boozy beverage. In a way, it reminded me of Calvados.

2005 Barley Wine
On its own, I didn't care much for it. But with the next course, everything came together. This barley wine was paired with another amuse bouche: this time, pan-seared fois gras on a brioche crostini that was topped with a blueberry and balsamic reduction. This was a powerful bite, washed down with a powerful drink. With this course, my appetite was fully piqued.
Pan-seared fois gras

To keep us moving, we moved into a soup course that was served with my favourite beer, Tankhouse Ale. I just love this hoppy, satisfying ale. I could drink it all day. And the soup was perfectly paired.

Tankhouse goes well with spicy dishes, so it was no surprise that the chef served us a roasted Pablano pepper soup with chili oil and cumin crème fraiche. Smoky and zesty, this was an absolutely perfect pairing. I loved it.

Soup course
Paradise IPA
The spice continued in the sixth course, a curried crab cake that was served with a lemon-lime chutney. Mill Street paired this deliciously crispy and spicy dish with another hoppy ale, their Paradise IPA. Deep amber with a foamy head, this IPA offers floral overtones on the nose. In the mouth, I tasted intense hops, honey, and a hint of pineapple. It finished with a hot, malty flavour.

Delicious, both.

Crab cake
2007 Barley Wine
Barley wine number two came next: this time, the 2007 vintage. The colour on this ale was not as deep as the 2005, and this time there was a head. Its appearance was an unfiltered orange-amber tone. On the nose, I caught a lighter brandy aroma with citrus. Less-complex than the 2005, there was some honey on the palate. But again, this tasted more like a digestif than a beer.

But this barley wine is no slouch. It won a gold medal in 2007 and gave Mill Street the honour of being awarded the Canadian brewery of the year. But at 11.2 percent ABV, you don't want to drink too much in one sitting.

Matched with this beer was a pomegranate and berry sorbet, and while most dishes were designed to be followed with the beer, this course was to be preceded by it. A mouthful of beer, swallowed, and then a bite of sorbet. Perfect. The sorbet activated the barley wine in the mouth and gave the impression of effervescence, almost like drinking a frizante wine.

I called it a fizziness. I could not duplicate the sensation with the sorbet and the 2005 barley wine. So this course was again a perfect match.

Coffee Porter
Next up was the Coffee Porter, and again I didn't take notes. I've talked about this plenty of times in the past: I love this beer, made with Balzak coffee. It is widely available in Ontario and has a regular spot on the taps in the brew pub. Have some.

Matched with this porter is a meal that I'd like to see as a regular addition to the Mill Street menu: a coffee-crusted pork tenderloin with a light cream sauce and served with a celery root purée and fried Brussels sprout leaves. The pork melted in my mouth, and the cream sauce turned the porter into a sweet café au lait. The celery root was light and creamy, and cleaned the palate. It was an awesome creation perfectly matched with the coffee porter.

Pork tenderloin
Seriously: I want it on the menu.

2012 Barley Wine
Our second-last course brought us the third and final barley wine: this time, the 2012 vintage, which is currently available in the LCBO. Deep amber with no head, I detected a light cherry-brandy nose. On the palate, I tasted caramel and brandy with some cinnamon and vanilla in an oak finish. And though this beer was very strong, at 14.5 percent ABV, it was not as hot in the mouth as the other two barley wines. And, at 55 IBUs, there was a good hoppiness to it.

This barley wine was served with a cheese course: Québec blue cheese and blackberry compote, with a goat cheese crostini. I took a small bite of the blue cheese, but I'm not a big fan of it. I find it too strong with a creamy texture that I don't like on my tongue. But I did appreciate it for what it was with the barley wine. They were well-matched. I really liked the goat cheese. I found the savoury flavours brought out more of the nose of the ale and helped me gain a better appreciation for this style of beer.

You would think by this time of the evening that I'd be full to bursting and would be too drunk to stand. But no. I found the food to me of a size that was completely manageable: not more than a few bites each. Also, I never finished any of the glasses of beer that came to my table. Some, I only took a few sips to support the food. At the beginning of the evening, Joel indicated that if we were to consume everything that was served to us (some were in four-ounce glasses, some in six-ounce samples, and others in eight-ounce glasses), we'd drink the equivalent of three-and-a-half pints.

In my books, too much to drink and drive. The most that I had of one glass was just over half, and that was the Tankhouse. Of the high-ABV samples, no more than a mouthful. I drink responsibly, folks.

The final course was a treat: a chocolate cookie with a caramel centre, served with a Cobblestone Stout and espresso ice cream. It was pure heaven, though for me I could have done without the firm caramel centre.

Just desserts
Matched with this dish was the newest addition to the Mill Street repertoire, the Double-Chocolate Imperial Stout. Because I reviewed it last week, I'll say no more here.

This was a dinner to remember. Mill Street gave its lovers a great evening with amazing food and fabulous beer, perfectly matched. It was a great way to celebrate 10 years of the brewery and to wish it many more years of success.

I look forward to future brewmaster dinners. If you haven't attended one yet, do yourself a favour and go to the next one.


And, on a completely unrelated issue, but a note that is worthy for my beer post, I wanted to let you know that I'll be starting a new blog that is completely dedicated to beer. It is called Beer O'Clock and the format will be slightly different from my weekly review on The Brown Knowser. It will be just my tasting notes and opinion of the beer. Just the facts.

See for yourself on December 1.

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