I have been to a lot of pairing events, and frankly, few make a lasting impression. The food is always good, the beer and wine are good — The concept makes for a happy evening, but rarely one to wax about.
There are a few exceptions to this, of course, like the Bushmills whiskey pairing dinner from three years ago at Harvest that we still talk about. And though my mission with this blog, my PennLive column and my HHRVB blog are to promote positive experiences in this area, I’m also not one to blow smoke.
This dinner — and pairing — was excellent.
We started with Salt Grass Oysters, paired with Millbock White.
The oysters were great — my only complaint was that they weren’t well-shucked and didn’t slide so easily into my mouth, but tasted good enough for me to forgive it. The plate was garnished with Chef Wewer’s homegrown cascade hops, which he encouraged us to sprinkle on top of the oysters, a terrific addition.
The Millbock White is an unfiltered wheat ale that should have notes of coriander and orange. Millbock’s version uses American yeast, which differentiates it from the Belgian variety. It should be a refreshing beer, but co-brewer Alan Miller noted that this keg did have “some age on it,” which caused it to develop some sweet notes. Fortunately not enough to give it that grape-lollipop-flavor I despise, but I’d love to taste this one fresh.
Course 2 featured candied and house-smoked bacon, with frisee and sweet and sour Ponzu.
How can you go wrong with bacon? This dish was delicious, especially when you made sure to include some of the frisee and sauce in your bite. This was matched with Millbock’s latest release, a Dunkelwine, the brewers’ take on a barleywine. This was delicious and wine-y, and stood up well to the smoked, candied bacon.
Next up — one of my favorite things — a charcuterie plate.
The plate featured gouda cheese with hop honey, Dunkel Bratwurst, Duck Rillette, house pickles, Hop Slobber mustard and grilled white ale bread.
It was paired with Millbock’s Something Dark, their peat smoked ale. I hate smoked beers, I really do. However, this didn’t have that unappealing fake smoke or overly bacon-y flavors that I associate with Rauchbiers. And I don’t know my scotches at all, but it was likened to a complex single malt scotch. Either way, a must-try.
The “main” course featured beef cheeks and vegetables paired with Millbock’s Hop Slobber Double IPA.
The beef cheeks were chili-grilled and paired with shredded snow peas and jicama with a pineapple-soy-miso puree. Another expertly paired dish. Texture and flavor profiles meshed perfectly, and — like the dishes beforehand — portion size was spot on. We were able to clean our plates each course and not feel overstuffed.
Millbock’s Hop Slobber is a potent American DIPA brewed “aggressively” with Cascade, Zyhos and Nugget hops. Palate-pleasing and a pleasant contrast to the chili and jicama in the dish.
Finally, dessert netted us chocolate truffles and the season’s last keg of Millbock’s 12 Hops of Christmas.
I think my husband called these, “little brownie balls of love.” Ah, truffles — easy to make, easy to eat, rich little pieces of chocolate goodness. This was an appropriate conclusion to a well-balanced pairing dinner. Rather than over do it with a hefty dessert, Chef Wewer’s simple stout-infused truffles were a tasty finish.
The truffles were matched with 12 Hops of Christmas IPA — which I loved especially because it wasn’t the obvious stout-with-stout pairing. As for the season’s last 12 Hops, the brew is Millbock’s celebration beer, which they make each year with a different set of a dozen hops.
There is a lot that can go wrong in these types of dinners. Servers are overzealous with pours, chefs serve too-large or too many courses. And then there are the pairings styles themselves; wine and beer matches may be selected based on different criteria. Too often I see my least favorite style, the “this has blueberry notes so we served it with blueberries” where only like flavors go together. However, it’s also not preferable to have pairings where the two components only taste good together — but not on their own.
Instead, Chef Wewer created flavors matches that made my mouth happy the whole time. Food was good on its own; made better with a sip of beer between bites. And when I finished my plate, but continued with my beer — the beer didn’t overwhelm the pleasant flavors still bouncing around my palate.
Overall, the beers were terrific as well, but I did have my favorites: I was surprised to love the Dunkelwine, and less surprised to adore the 12 Hops of Christmas. I’ll be sure to find this one earlier in the season next year.