It seems only fitting that at a pub called The Courthouse one should deliberate upon the merits of both good beer and good wine and so one evening a large contingent of the Australian Beer Writers’ Guild found themselves at The Courthouse in North Melbourne to do just that at the invitation of Scott, the manager and the newly appointed (at the time) head chef Julian Hill.
Now what on earth was a gastropub manager doing, inviting a bunch of self-confessed stinky amber ale lovers to a dinner where there would be wine?! Conversion, of course! Did it work? We’ll see…
I have nothing but deep admiration for wine nerds: there is so much to learn and as much as I would love dearly to be as wine nerdy as I attempt to be beer nerdy (for I also have bucketloads to learn in that area too), the truth is, I’ve no idea where to start. Yes, it is that simple. It also feels more intimidating. It might sound stupid, but this is not a thought process exclusive to foodie-drinkie aspects of my life. I’ve been a classical flute player for half of my life and absolutely terrified of learning jazz because I never felt I mastered classical.
However, as if to ease us in, we were given a canapé that had only a beer match: an ocean trout cornet matched with the Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus. It looked beautiful and tasted delightful and got the table talking excitedly in promise of what was to come.
The first proper course, the entrée, was crumbed pork head with sauce gribiche and remoulade.
It seems any meat on the pig’s head is prized for its porkier-than-usual element and the course was matched with a whopping three beverages: two beers – the Stone and Wood Pacific Ale (formerly known as their Draught Ale) and the Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier, a beer from the oldest brewery in the world. The wine chosen was the Max Ferd Richter Brauneberger Juffer riesling from 2008.
To my palate, the best match was the Kristall Weissbier though even that was not entirely perfect: I felt the course needed something along these lines style-wise but more ‘beefed up’. The Stone and Wood beer oddly enough got too hoppy: not usually an issue I would raise with this particular beer as I find it quite fruity and enjoy its passionfruit notes.
For the next course of venison shanks en crepinette with sweet potato and horseradish, it was the same deal – two beers and one wine and left up to us to nominate the one that best matched the course.
The meal had a distinctly French slant to it and this largely reflects what The Courthouse do, both in their dining room menus and the pub fare available in the less formal area.
From left to right we have the Bridge Road Bière de Garde, Three Ravens Dark Alt Noir (a Melbourne microbrewery out in Thornbury!) and the Alpha Box and Dice ‘Enigma’ Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon blend from 2009.
The liquid match here was no contest: it was the Bière de Garde (god, am I forever jealous I missed out on imbibing this confessed favourite on hand pump at the Tanswell pub in Beechworth. The Three Ravens I had sampled prior to dining and the Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon I found too rough on my palate. Yes, I emphasise ‘my’ palate and fully disclose that it is not one developed for adequately judging wines.
Usually, French-influenced dining gives you the choice of a cheese or dessert course. Scott and Julian exceeded our expectations by spoiling us with both: to finish, we were treated to ‘textures of chocolate’ and raspberry sorbet. It sounds like a standard dessert but the treatment of chocolate in its various iterations ensured it stayed interesting.
The two beverages served with this were the Hargreaves Hill Abbey Dubbel and the NV Sanchez Romate Cardinal Cisneros Pedro Ximenez, the latter of which won most of the hearts around the table as best suiting dessert.
But Hargreaves Hill was yet to come back to a triumph for the last course of Isle of Mull cheddar, beating the De Bortoli Melba Reserve cabernet sauvignon 1999 vintage with their humble English Special Bitter. I confess I am very partial to a good ESB though I seem to recall that this was one of the pairings that divided the table the most.
The excellent news is that you do not have to be an Australian Beer Writers’ Guild member to come along to such a dinner as the folks at The Courthouse have decided to host one for the general public! Simply head on to The Crafty Pint for booking details – several ABWG members will be there and we’d love to say hello and hear your thoughts on whose alcoholic beverage reigns supreme!
Crafty on the right, Champion of Beer. Chris McNamara on the left, Reformed Wine Nerd ponders his defection to the dark, beery side. Could it be that he is thankful for his defection when beer was named the winner on this very night…?
BYO boxing gloves, shorts and boots in your chosen colour, of course.*
*we encourage responsible drinking. Please don’t brawl. Bruises and the like will hurt when you’ve sobered up.