The week before last was a ridiculously beery week. The Local Taphouse celebrated the second birthday of its monthly beer tasting sessions ‘Ale Stars’ and the folks from Mountain Goat Brewery were there to help out in fine form. A bunch of beer writers met up at Mrs Parma’s for parmas and good brew and left having given birth to the Australian Beer Writers’ Guild.
Then there was a more formal beer-and-food matched dinner at the Swanston Hotel on Swanston Street (despite its easy-to-reach location in the CBD, the venue made it horrendously difficult to secure a spot to said dinner) where food was served under the helm of chef Ross Chapman and beer was provided by the Bridge Road Brewers from Beechworth.
It was a bit of a clusterfuck to make it and when I arrived, my dear partner Tristan was shielding the vultures from the appetiser of chicken liver parfait and confit vanilla pear on crostini.
This was served with a glass of the Chevalier Saison. Oh baby, you were better than I remembered. Refreshing and sustaining, this makes me long for summer, and I loathe summer. Thank you dear staff for serving me a glass! Due to my lateness, I didn’t really get to experience the parfait and Saison together.
Already on the table was the first proper course – a spicy scallop salad with mango and coriander. When the chef came out to chat to us about his menu, he said that the scallops were lightly poached in aromats. The scallops were succulent and the coriander just grand, but the mangoes didn’t quite work in this dish, being far too sweet.
This dish was served with the Bavarian wheat beer. The first time I had Bridge Road’s hefeweizen, I admit, I wasn’t a fan. I’ve said before it’s not a style I like generally. After having it on subsequent occasions, I seem to enjoy it more (for instance, the beermen.tv Hair of the Dog breakfast). The coriander in the dish went well with this beer, though it’s not as ‘wheaty’ as some of the wheat beer I’ve had, at least not to my palate, which probably still needs to develop lots.
Ben Kraus, the head brewer at Bridge Road, informed us that the first two beers we had were yeast-driven, and that the following two would be malt-driven, both of which I’ve had quite recently.
A course of confit pork belly with baked apple purée and apple balsamic was matched to the Bling India Pale Ale. As amply noted by a fellow diner on my table, the crackling wasn’t quite crunchy enough, but that aside, the pork was the perfect balance of velvety fat and meat.
As soon as Ben started talking about the Bling IPA, I was all ears, not realising that not only are hoppy beers good with spicy food, but also oily and greasy fare because of the hop resins. Bling was maltier than I remembered it – when I first had it on tap, it seemed really hoppy though not bitter. This time its malt characteristics seemed more evident on the nose and to taste. In addition, the deeply aromatic hops seemed floral, like they did at previous tasting.
Incidentally, this was my favourite beer-and-food pairing. There you have it – pork belly kicks arse with hoptastic beer.
The last savoury dish was the fillet of beef, sticky ‘porter’ braised cheek, pomme mousseline and shallot tarte tatin. The beef cheek was braised for several hours in the accompanying beer, the Robust Porter.
I don’t like that I love red meat so much but I just can’t bloody help it…this was my favourite dish of the evening. The meat was tender, the mash divine and I wish the shallot tarte tatin was larger because it was fantastic and gave the dish that extra ‘edge’. If I were a bogan, I might say that it was the X-factor element. Oh alright, if you’ve met me in person, you have my permission to call me a bogan *wink*.
Given a good hunk of the above dish was cooked using the Robust Porter, it seems obvious that it would be the beer paired with the dish. The first time I had this (on tap), I think I may have drunk it without giving it an adequate chance to warm up and thus its flavours were muted. Such is the life of a pisshead. On this occasion, no such issues – drinking it warmer revealed roasted malt with burnt characteristics and a bitterness reminiscent of coffee. Quite robust. There was still a slight hop presence too, which pleasantly surprised me.
Now to dessert – a caramel tart with chocolate mousse and ‘BDG’ beer ice cream. While some fellow diners objected to the ‘vegetables’ on the ice cream containing the Bière de Garde, I thought it an excellent contrast. Yep, the ice cream really does have beer and it was fantastic. The caramel tart tasted more like toffee to me – rich, gooey and very sweet. Almost too sweet but not quite!
There doesn’t appear to be an accompanying picture for the beer – the Chevalier Bière de Garde. It comes in a similar to the Chevalier Saison and they are quite similar styles – again, one brewed for the peasants to drink in the summertime. Bridge Road’s version has notes of ginger and star anise, the latter giving the beer some liquorice characteristics. If this was meant to match with dessert then my palate wasn’t sophisticated enough to detect it though it did help to dilute the sweetness and richness of the caramel tart.
There was one surprise left up the Beechworth brewers’ sleeves. Femme Fatale Ales’ Nardia McGrath brought along a wee tipple of her brand new and very special brew – a braggot which is a beer and mead hybrid. This braggot, named Megachile Pluto after the world’s biggest bee is 10% ABV (straight from the brewer’s mouth), has Beechworth honey (red stringybark) and Cascade hops. At first, it smells like fortified wine with spice – nutmeg and cinnamon. You need to let it warm up to get the nutmeg scent and taste, as well as the hop presence.
If you want to try this beauty, it is available (at the time of writing) on tap at the Royston Hotel in Richmond, and Biero Bar in the CBD. Red Hill Brewery were in Melbourne recently and posted this delightful Twitpic of the braggot on tap at Biero Bar.
(original image can be viewed here and used with kind permission from the folks at Red Hill Brewery)
One quibble I have is with the venue: they approached Bridge Road with the idea of this dinner and marketed it as the ‘ultimate’ beer dinner. So why would you offer to replace beer matching with wine (if you click on the link to the venue advertising the event, you can see this)? This seems a bit stupid given the event is supposed to be about showcasing a Victorian brewery and its pairing with food. I probably wouldn’t go to this venue again, but my main interest was in learning more about Bridge Road up close and personal – hard given they are so far away from Melbourne. Another point of note was that the event, while organised by Cocoon Bar in the hotel, was not actually held at the bar but in a separate space altogether. Perhaps I’m just sore about that because I got confused? The staff were really nice and did a fantastic job and I left neither a drop of beer in my glasses or a crumb of food on my plate!
Beer and food matching is not quite at the same level as that of wine and food, but it’s becoming more popular with both foodies and beer lovers. Indeed, there were a few similar events on recently – the Mountain Goat one at the Royal Mail Hotel in Spencer Street, Melbourne, and the specialist beer bar the Local Taphouse had a medieval feast – both of these just last week.