September Beer Pairing Dinner – Guinness

(History on this report can be seen here. Beer scales/measurements are provided when available; see here for what these mean.)

September 2010 Beer Pairing Menu

Well, it’s that time of the month again. No, not that, but time for the beer pairing dinner. For Sepember 2010 we get a set of favorites, along with a new one, from Arthur Guinness’s brewery at St. James Gate (Dublin, Ireland), again with the food stylings of Chef Todd Davies.

This month there were 11 of us: The Wife and yours truly, our next-door neighbors Lisa and Vince (for whom Peanut is sitting), Carole and Bob, Julie and Tom, Suzanne, Paul and Tim. Notable no-shows and other comments:

  • Steve would have come, but can’t make Wednesdays due to commitments at church.
  • Paul, who last month said he would come, is actually here!
  • and Tim makes an appearance, much to Julie’s delight.
Pregame Festivities:  C 

Red Stripe Light, 33cl bottle

We started with a bottle of one of the best known beverages in the Guiness arsenal – Red Stripe Light.

Yes, that Red Stripe. You may be surprised, but I know that when I think of Guinness, the first thing I think of is their most famous beer, Red Stripe. You know, the one with the parrot and all the signs that say “Red Stripe is good for you.” A fine Irish pint.

Seems that Guinness now owns Red Stripe, so they shared with us. It’s OK, I guess, but my palate was set for something, umm, better. I’ve never had Red Stripe Light before but it’s not entirely my style. I did finish it, so it couldn’t have been too bad. Fortunately, there’s only one more surprise on the menu.

Swag:  C 

Sweet swag shirt

The swag factor this month was pretty low. The Guiness rep did do something we haven’t seen before – he was doling out high-quality promotional shirts, but he was doling them out by raffle. We did pretty good – our group won 4, with both The Wife and I scoring one. That was it in the swag department. Typically, everybody would be walking out of the place holding something – beer glasses are typical, last month is atypically good, this month is atypically bad. Had our table done worse, the score would have been lower. (I was kinda looking forward to a pint glass or two; guess I’ll have to, uhh, appropriate some of those in some other way…)

First Course:  B 

Beer: B Food: A-/B+

Harp Lager

Seared Scallop with Peach Jam

This course paired Harp with seafood – Scallop. The scallop was perfectly seared and served on top of lightly toasted Brioche. The sauce lining the plate was a Peach & Lemon Jam with some Mizuna. This course, being the first, was viewed tentatively – was it going to be the best of the night or portend a much better evening. The scallop was perfect, but the brioche was a little boring (maybe it was supposed to be?) and the mizuna was like spinach without much flavor. It was a fine tasting meal, but the crispness of the Harp tended to overpower all of the flavors other than the peach jam (which was delightful). One last thought – it was like a combination of breakfast (jam on toast) with a nice dinner appetizer. A little odd but the scallop was absolutely perfect.

Harp is one of the three signature brews from Guinness. It’s the newest of the signature brews, starting in 1960 (according to Wikipedia). It has a typical crisp lager nose and taste, with distinct fruity/grassy/herb-y notes. The color is a pale light gold, definitely the lightest color of tonight’s beers (except for the Red Stripe, but we couldn’t see that one because of the dark brown bottle). It’s a good lager – not great, though I must admit that I’m predisposed to prefer MOST of the remaining beers of the evening over this one.

The food and beer did pair well. I think if the other parts of the meal were stronger flavored it could have been better, but it was plenty good as it was. The Wife, of course, didn’t particularly like it because she’s biased against seafoods, however she did eat it.

Second Course:  A 

Beer: B Food: A+

Smithwick's Irish Red Ale

Duck Pot Pie with Cherry Compote

This partnering of an intriguing pot pie with a yummy beer was definitely my favorite of the evening. I like duck, generally, and having a roasted chunk of it wrapped up in a pastry shell with a sweet, tart, tasty cherry compote was really quite nice. The little chunk of cheese (Camembert) sitting on top was melting ever so slightly from the heat of the pot pie, and when mixed in with the pot pie, duck, mushrooms, and combined with the cherries made for both a great collection of contrasting tastes and textures.

Smithwick’s is my second-favorite brew from Guiness – this seems to have been from a bottle because the draft Smithwick’s is redder. It is a strong flavored drink, with a bitter aftertaste. Strong malty nose, with a small foamy head. It was a nice coupling with the strong flavors of the food, and stood up well to food.

Third Course:  A-/B+ 

Beer: B Food: A

Guiness Black Lager, 33cl bottle

Braised Pork Belly

Braised Pork Belly

This is a newly-introduced beer from Guiness, Black Lager. It combines the crisp taste of a lager with the dark-roasted malt flavors of Guiness Draught into one bottle. If you’ve never had a black lager before, it can be a bit of a shock because it smells like a porter/stout but tastes and feels on your tongue more like a lager. The Wife really liked it – we went over to Binny’s the next day and she got a 6-pack of it (yeah, but I got some Spaten Optimator ;) ).

On the plate is what on paper promised to be the best of the evening – braised pork belly. For those of you not up on food lingo, pork belly is a technical term for what in the United States is referred to most typically as BACON. Braised bacon – everybody was ready for a treat.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as we were anticipating. The bacon was good, the ratatouille was good, the gorgonzola provided the kick that you might expect from a stinky cheese, but our expectations were SO HIGH that it would have been hard to have made anything as good as we expected.

However, the food did match up pretty nicely with the beer – the gorgonzola, being strongly flavored, held up against the sweetness of the roast malts, and the bacon/ratatouille combo also did well against the lager-icity of the beer. I don’t want to make you think that this wasn’t good, because it was. It was the third-best combo of the night, but only because the top two were SO good; on an average night, this would have been a top or runner-up.

Fourth Course:  A+ 

Beer: A Food: A

Guiness Draught (with a slight dent)

Braised Short Rib

And now we come to the Mother’s Milk – Guiness Draught. A surprisingly many people I meet think Guinness Draught is heavy, chewy, or otherwise thick. They obviously haven’t had any, since it’s a heavy flavored beer, but not particularly thick. It may be that they’re responding to the texture, which is creamy due to the nitrogen. Yes, Guinness Draught is powered by nitrogen, not carbon dioxide. It’s what’s responsible for the cascading bubbles inside the glass and the rich foamy head. Nitrogen escaping from the beer comes in little bubbles of N2, smaller than CO2, causing the well-known thick head. This effect is enhanced by the tap – inside the tap is a perforated disc that encourages the fizzing. Since the beer is fizzy when it comes out of the tap, it has to rest for the head to form correctly. While it’s resting, just relax – pretty soon the waiting is over (OR, just order the next one when you’re getting close!). When the resting is done, the glass is topped off (under the head) and then it’s yours.

Dessert Course:  B-/C+ 

Beer: B-/C+ Food: A

Guiness Extra Stout

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Espresso Cream

The last beer, Guinness Extra Stout, is a bottled, widget-less, dry stout, a little heavier textured than Guinness Draught. Not as creamy as its oft-confused colleague, but as an exchange for the texture you get more ABV here (~5% instead of 4.1-4.3%). It has a similar roast coffee / chocolate note as Draught, but I find it more bitter. This used to be my preferred Guinness, but I went to Ireland and had a Draught locally and the rest is history.

The dessert itself was wonderful. I’m not really a big chocolate fan (given my choice, it’s vanilla ice cream or custard over chocolate anything), but this was quite good. It was VERY rich. Flourless cakes are just that – cakes without flour. The cream (light brown) was coffee/cappuccino based, and provided a nice contrast to the cake but really provided the complimentary taste to go with the beer.

The flavors did go well together. I’m pleased that Chef Todd put this beer with dessert, mostly because it allowed me to avoid having to have it with one of the “real” courses (talk about damning with faint praise).

Epilogue:

Guiness Draught in proper glass, head measures 5/8"

We stayed after for maybe 30 minutes, just chatting among ourselves. I caught up with Chef Todd on the way out to discuss a benefit dinner in honor of Steve, using his 5 favorite beers. He’s all for that, as long as we do it on a weeknight in December. So… more details on that are forthcoming. I’ll drop something on the front page and link it in under the Steve topic.

Final Grades:

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

This was an average experiece, but that may be due principally to familiarity – 4 of the 5 paired beers were well known to me. The two new ones were OK and good – Red Stripe Light was OK and the Black Lager was good. Most of the food items were good, with 2 being standouts. There were no beers that anyone really didn’t like (even the Extra Stout was tolerable to me) and nothing was too anything – not too hoppy, not too strong flavored, not too fruity…. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back next month (Todd’s still cooking? Then we’ll be there!)

Overall Grade:  A-/B+ 

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