Hello beer lovers!
We’ve finally made it into March, which means that there are a scant two months until the Black Creek Historic Brewery reopens its doors in May. But despite the cold, I am not one to rest on my laurels. No, in my quest to expand my palate, I have again turned south of the border.
I have a lot of respect and affection for Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, and I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Dogfish Alehouse in Fairfax, VA for a beer and food pairing. As friends of Black Creek know well, our “Say Cheese! Say Cheers!” events pair craft beers with artisan cheeses. This “King’s Feast” went a step further, pairing three of Dogfish’s Ancient Ales with a three-course meal.
By now, it’s no secret that pairing beer requires just as much art as pairing wine. Indeed, beer has even more ingredients to play with in creating a flavour profile: malts that span from caramel-sweet to espresso-bitter; floral, citrusy, earthy, grassy, and piney hops; bready and fruity yeasts, and all the spices, nuts, chocolates, fruits, and vegetables (yes, vegetables—remember our Sweet Potato Ale?) you can name.
Properly pairing is an art that I am by no means qualified to expound upon…yet. Generally speaking, though, the aim is to ensure that neither the beer nor the food is overwhelmed. A lighter-bodied pilsner probably won’t stand up to a rich beef roast—but a heavier stout or porter might. You can also contrast and counter flavours: think how the acidity of tomatoes calms the saltiness and savouriness of cheese. That light-bodied pilsner won’t get overwhelmed by something like seafood—and the hops bitterness can cut the fattiness of fish like tuna and salmon.
So, what pairings did Dogfish Head offer?
Course I: Theobroma and Appetizers
All of the beers at this event come from Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales series—these are beer recipes recreated from chemical analysis of drinking vessels found at archaeological sites. Theobroma hails from pottery fragments found in the Honduras, attesting to an alcoholic beverage brewed with cacao.
So basically, a chocolate beer that looks like an IPA. Beautiful, beautiful cloudy orange colour.
For me, the cocoa nibs were actually quite subtle: the main flavour I got from this beer was a chili bite (and yes, there are chilies in it). There was some citrus on the aftertaste, and this is more where the cocoa came through, almost like a chocolate-orange sensation. Alas, I can no longer eat cheese, but I suspect that this sharper, citrus-chili taste would have cut the richness of the cheese plate before me. As it is, it did work wonders quenching the thirst produced by two salty dishes of nuts. At 9% ABV, it also left long-lingering warmth in the belly.
Course II: Midas Touch and Meat
I would just like to say that I have never seen so much meat on a plate meant for one person. Possibly 1/3 of a chicken, a giant turkey leg, and lamb. Also vegetables. I may never need to eat again.
I hope that’s not the case though, because I quite enjoyed the Midas Touch. Midas Touch was the first of the Ancient Ales, recreated from residue left in drinking vessels found in the Midas Tumulus tomb in Turkey. This ale is a sweet-yet-dry brew that seems to combine elements of beer, wine, and mead. Honey and light fruit notes (most notably melon and grape) dominate the flavours. It’s a beer with a medium mouthfeel, but it certainly does have an edge to it—something like a dry white wine. The sweetness and fruitiness worked well with the white meats on offer, and that edge also cut through the fattiness of the lamb. Also 9% ABV.
Course III: Chateau Jiahu and King’s Barley Cake
I’ve had the Chateau Jiahu before. This beer hails from an archaeological dig in China’s Yellow River Valley; evidence suggests that it is one of the world’s oldest brews. Like the Midas Touch, this beer blends elements of wine, beer, and mead. Honey and grapes balance a very sweet, very light maltiness; sake yeast lends just a bit of rice-like nuance as well.
I will admit that after that monster meat plate, I was not up to more than a few bites of the King’s Barley Cake, which was a dense cake studded with apple and accompanied by fruit and cream. Although it comes in at 10% ABV, the Jiahu was one of the lighter, sweeter beers on offer tonight, which kept it from overwhelming the cake. My beer-tasting companion Tee Morris assures me that drinking and eating the two together enhanced the flavour of both.
Saying that this was a fine, fine event is quite an understatement, but Dogfish Head: this was a fine, fine event. And of course, my warmest and most heartfelt thanks to Tee and his father for a wonderful evening, filled with good beer, good food, and good conversation. Now that’s a pairing I think we can all agree on!