August Beer Pairing Dinner – Magic Hat Brewery

Flashback to about 4 years ago: The Wife and I, both enjoying nice beer and good food, discovered that a local fine restaurant known for wine pairing dinners was having a beer pairing dinner. We went by ourselves, not thinking of inviting anyone to join us. When we got there, we decided that it was B-O-R-I-N-G. Looking around, we saw one of our friends from church having a good-old time. We quickly invited ourselves to join their party, and that settled it. The next time, we invited Steve and Suzanne, knowing their love of beer. It was way fun, and ever since we’ve been inviting people to join our little beer party.

Cut to the present – I started blogging, and I figured one source of content (at least once a month) would be the beer dinners. This post is the first in a series of monthly reports from the beer dinners, a celebration of fine beer and exquisite food. It’s just part of my Beer Snob training program, I guess.

The reports contain grades, an overall grade for the event along with the parts of the meal. Each course is evaluated as parts individually (was the food or beer too strong or weird for our tastes) and as a pairing (how well the flavors went together) to give a rating to the course itself. I’ll try to have pictures of the beer and food separately, but it gets more difficult later in the dinner – I’ve been drinking, after all. We also tend to learn something new in the menu – lots of high-falutin’ words that only foodies know. I don’t know what it means that I’ve learned 1 new word or 8, just that it’s interesting. Occassionally, the breweries will reference well-known beer scales (SRM for color, IBUs for bitterness, ABV for alcohol content; a quick explanation can be found here); if a brewery provides it, I’ll copy it here.

The grades will be relative to our experiences and palate. I’ll keep the grades simple – A-F – but when I can’t decide, they get some tween’er grade (like “A-/B+”). Comments like this one are sprinkled about the text below; they’re meant as asides explaining this report structure to you and I don’t anticipate them being in future reports.


August 2010 Beer Pairing Menu

It’s time for the August 2010 beer pairing dinner. As you can see in the menu, the evening promises to pair 5 (unknown to me) beverages from Magic Hat Brewery (South Burlington, VT), with the food stylings of Chef Todd Davies.

This month there were 8 of us: The Wife and yours truly, our next-door neighbors Lisa and Vince (for whom Peanut is sitting), Carole and Bob, and Julie and Tom. We’ve had both more (18) and less (2), but this is a nice size for our crowd. Notable no-shows:

  • Steve wasn’t interested in this beer, so he and Suzanne passed.
  • Paul hasn’t joined us in a while, but he thinks he might next month.
  • Tim was supposed to tag along, but he decided to play golf instead even though I’ve been telling him about this MONTHLY EVENT for 3 months straight. Julie was not happy at all, but I quickly threw Tim under the bus – I’m not taking the heat on this one – and passed along his mobile number so she could tell him directly.

Pregame Festivities: B

These dinners tend to open with a complimentary pint of beer from the guest brewery. It’s not like you don’t get enough beer throughout the evening, but it’s a nice ice breaker.

We were treated to a pint of Number 9; if any Magic Hat brews are on tap near you, it’s probably this one. I’d never had it before and it was quite drinkable. It’s not entirely my style, but it wasn’t something that I ran away from screaming either. I did finish it, so it couldn’t have been too bad. There’s more on Number 9 below in the 3rd course.

Swag: A+

We also generally are treated to some swag – pint glasses, lapel pins, T-shirts, golf caps, … – that forms part of the overall opinion of the evening. It’s definitely a secondary thing – if the swag is good but the beer is crap, it’s going to result in a bad grade. Remember, this is about the BEER, not the container it’s in.

Last night’s haul included a little bit of everything: pint glasses, sun glasses, wooden matches, bumper/window sticker, neoprene bottle/can cozy, and a bottle opener. Individually they’re not too interesting, but as a total package it was a complete collection. The pint glasses were unremarkable – normal pint glasses with some Magic Hat stuff silk-screened on them – but handy nonetheless. We’ve kept the pint glasses, bottle opener and matches, Peanut took a sticker, and the sunglasses were put into the donate pile.

At the end of the evening there was a raffle for more Magic Hat stuff. The Wife won a T-shirt (basic white T with the Number 9 tap handle printed on it) and there were some 6- and 12-packs raffled as well.

First Course: B

Each course is evaluated as parts individually (was the food or beer too strong or weird for our tastes) and as a pairing (how well the flavors went together) to give a rating to the course itself. I’ll try to have pictures of the beer and food separately, but it gets more difficult later in the dinner – I’ve been drinking, after all…

Beer: B Food: B

This course paired Wacko with Chicken. The chicken was grilled/seared, and served with a raita sauce made with cucumber and horseradish on top of a toasted bread. There was some very light sauce on the bottom of the plate. I found the chicken a little dry and didn’t notice much horseradish taste (The Wife, with her Super Taster, did). It was also a quite large piece of chicken – I think it was pounded down a little (or sliced in half) so it wasn’t too thick, but it was still a lot for the opening course. The toast was a nice contrast in texture.

Wacko is Magic Hat’s summer seasonal. It’s called an english ale (4.5% ABV, ~5 SRM, 15 IBUs), which makes me think of something like Bass, but it’s got a different flavor. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it’s a pinkish-red. The color comes from beets added for brewing, but it doesn’t seem to change the flavor. I can’t imagine how it doesn’t change the flavor, but then I’ve never had beets that weren’t pickled in some way – that flavor was not in the beer. What it did have was a nice malty aroma.

Together the food and beer paired well, but I would have preferred the chicken a little more moist. There was no taste explosion in my mouth, but it was a little boring.

Second Course: A

Beer: A Food: A

This course, pairing a crispy wonton with the Summer ’10 Odd Notion, was hands-down my favorite of the night. It was also a favorite with some others at the table.

The crispy wonton was filled with coarsely-chopped scallops, on top of a duck & shiitake (note the typo in the menu) mixture with a sweet and tangy sauce that wasn’t very thick. The red sauce on top of the wonton is a Philippine banana sauce, similar to Jufran Banana Sauce, and the banana flavor was definitely present (maybe more in the sauce on the bottom of the plate). The combination of tastes and smooth/soft textures contrasted nicely with the crunchy wonton.

This beer, part of the Odd Notion series of experimental brews, is labeled a ginger ale (5.5% ABV, 5.0 SRM, 15 IBUs). I had no idea what to expect of ginger ale beer, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The combination worked very well, because the flavor notes in the beer worked well with those in the food, filling in some gaps.

Third Course: A

Beer: B Food: A

Here’s our new-found drinking buddy from earlier in the evening, Number 9. It’s paired with an interesting combination – mussels, a smoky Spanish Chorizo, and sweet corn from the cob. (One of the best parts about living in Illinois is that sweet corn is plentiful this time of year – if you haven’t experienced a corn boil, you need to find one of those!). The sausage wasn’t like the spicy Mexican style, rather something that reminded me more of a sausage made from bacon. On the bottom of the plate is a a brothy sauce that’s also lightly buttery or cheesy. That collection of tastes and textures combines very nicely with the beer to produce a collection of sensations – not to mention how the beer fits right in there with all of that.

Number 9 is labeled as a “not quite pale ale” (5.1% ABV, 9.0 SRM, 20 IBUs). The Cascade hops give it a citrusy flavor.

Fourth Course: A

Beer: A Food: A

I didn’t manage to get a picture of the entree on the table, but I did get one back in the kitchen. This beer, Blind Faith, was described by Chef Todd as “an ‘East-coast’ IPA” (6.2% ABV, 15.0 SRM, 60 IBUs). We didn’t really know what that meant until we tasted it – it wasn’t nearly as bitter as the West-coast IPAs (think Sierra Nevada or Lagunitas). It has a nice color, not quite as dark as the picture makes you think but more color than you normally see in an IPA. That color is no doubt from the malt, and adds to the mellow flavor. Using the same hops as Number 9, the increased bitterness is from adding more of the Apollo.

The food was a cauliflower croquette with a medium-rare beef medallion, topped with some greens and gorgonzola cheese. There was an au jus over the top of the meat and croquette. The croquette was itself a variety of textures – crunchy outside (Panko maybe?) and smooth inside – with only a hint of cauliflower (I didn’t get any of the rosemary, which is a freaky-strong flavor for me). The meat was perfect, lean and soft.

This combination worked very well – the beer flavors paired nicely with the food and didn’t compete at all.

Dessert Course: A-/B+

The biggest mental hurdle for me to get over when I started going to beer pairing dinners is that dessert WILL be paired with BEER. It’s often a sweet beer or something with fruity notes, a Lambic or wheat beer, but it’s a beer nonetheless (maybe not the Lambics – they don’t meet the Rheinheitsgebot).

Beer: B-/C+ Food: A

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The last beer, Circus Boy, was called a Hefeweizen – a wheat beer (4.5% ABV, 6.0 SRM, 14 IBUs). True to the style, it was a little fruity – banana in this case. (I’m predisposed to dislike wheat beer, so that colors my review. The best a wheat it likely to get is a B. I don’t really like them, but they’re my grades and the only reason I’m explaining is that other people will like this one better. It wasn’t too sweet, which made it not so bad (for a wheat beer). It appears unfiltered but not chewy or full of sediment – just cloudy. It wasn’t like I had trouble drinking it, so I was happy to try it, but I’m not sure I would buy it on purpose.

The dessert itself was wonderful. It was a frozen banana mousse, cut into triangle-shaped pieces, about the size of a typical serving of baklava. It was crusted with crushed cashews and served on top of the chocolate hazelnut sauce. It was frozen well, but not hard, and didn’t melt before everyone finished.

The flavors did go well together, but Chef Todd maybe took it easy on himself by picking an easy beer to pair with the dessert.

Epilogue:

When there’s a bit of a good-sized group, we usually hang around and chat for a bit – we chat among ourselves, with Chef Todd, and with the brewery rep. Sometimes we learn interesting things this way, other times we just sober up a little bit…

We stayed for about 45 minutes or so, and I had a nice chance to chat with the Magic Hat rep. They have worked with Chef Todd in the past and jumped at the chance to participate.  The 12-pack was almost pulled from the raffle because the kitchen was running low on a couple of the flavors of beer.

Chef Todd recognized us and was again pleased to see us. I gave him my feedback on the dinner, and wanted to know more about the red sauce on the wonton – he clued me in to the Philippine banana sauce, which I shared above. I talked to him about a couple of other things and then let him go; I’d been playing and he’d been working, so let the man get home.

Final Grades:

Overall Beer: A-/B+
Overall Food: A
Overall Pairings: A-/B+
Unknown words: 1 (raita)

This was one of the better complete experiences we’ve had. The beer was not fully my style, but all of them were drinkable (nobody left any). The IPA was a particular good add for our collective tastes – not too hoppy, but enough so you knew it was an IPA.

Reviewing the scores from above, what we see is that none of the beer was bad, nor was any one particularly better than any other. There were differences across the board (I would have liked something darker and richer in malt flavor, being a partial to Guiness Draught), but I’ve never had a rose beer before.

Overall grade: A

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