Gulpdown Showdown I – Beer vs. Wine in St. Louis

Friday night, July 23rd saw the first Gulpdown Showdown, an epic battle of food pairing savy pitting beer against wine in a seven course exercise of gustatory excess. The combatants: Cicerone Michael Agnew and Chef Erik Jacobs, old friends, but bitter rivals in the realm of fermented refreshments.

Eight people gathered at Chef Erik’s home in Clayton, Missouri. Eight people ate. Eight people drank. Eight people voted for the best pairing with each course. In the end, ballots were never counted and most disappeared with the celebrants. Surreptitious glances through the evening suggested to me that the results may have been a draw. But who really cares. The food was incredible, the beverages were fantastic, and everyone had a great time.

Because we never tabulated ballots, I can only report here on my own and Erik’s clearly biased pairing preferences.

First Course: Thai Crispy Prawn Cakes with Sweet Chili Sauce
My Pairing – Schlafly Pilsner, St. Louis Brewry
Erik’s Pairing – 2009 Rudesheimer Magdalenkreuz Spatlese:  Leitz

My Pick – Wine
Erik’s Pick – Beer

Comments: I misjudged the sweetness of the chili sauce. The wine matched it much better in my view. Erik liked the way the beer cleansed the palate.

Second Course: Sopa de Pomodoro Crudo – Brunoise Tomato, Bocconcini, Basil Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil
My Pairing – Old Scratch Amber Lager, Flying Dog Brewery
Erik’s Pairing – NV Cava Rose:  Segura Viudas

My Pick – Beer
Erik’s Pick – Wine

Comments: The soup was very acidic. The wine was very acidic. They were too similar in my view. The toasty malt sweetness of the beer offered a balancing contrast.

Third Course: Causa de Cangrejo – Peruvian Potato, Avocado and Crab Salad
My Pairing – Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
Erik’s Pairing – 2008 Chardonnay:  Foxglove

My Pick – Beer
Erik’s Pick – Wine

Comments: I found Erik’s chardonnay to be too heavy for the dish. It overpowered. The lighter beer matched the weight of the food. The flavors of the herbal potatoes and shellfish flowed seamlessly into the spicy flavors in the beer. This was the best pairing if the evening for me.

Fourth Course: Duck Confit with Sweet Corn and Summer Vegetable Salad
My Pairing – Westmalle Tripel
Erik’s Pairing – 2006 Pinot Noir:  Harmonia

My Pick – Beer with the duck. Wine with the veggies. If I were to choose an overall pairing it would be the beer.
Erik’s Pick – Wine

Comments: I found that the Westmalle blended brilliantly with the saltiness of the duck. However it overpowered the veggies a bit. I was surprised by the concordance of the wine with the veggies, as I expected the pinot to overwhelm them. This was a close one.

Fifth Course: Meditterranean Grilled Lamb “Lollipops” – Mint Pesto, Truffled Pommes Anna, Spinach
My Pairing – Traquair House Jacobite Scotch Ale with Coriander
Erik’s Pairing – 2005 Shiraz “Testament”:  Killikanoon

My Pick – I declared this one a draw, but if forced to choose I would go with the beer. This was my second choice beer. My first choice, a brown or amber Biére de Garde, would have knocked it out of the ballpark. I couldn’t find one.
Erik’s Pick – Wine

Comments: The rich, earthy, and lightly funky flavors of the wine worked very well with the gamey flavors of the lamb and the mushroomy truffled Pommes. But the silky sweet caramel and subtle peaty flavors of the beer were equal to the task. The light floral/spicy character of the coriander brought out similar flavors in the dish.

Sixth Course: Honey Lavender Panna Cotta with Berries and Stone Fruits
My Pairing – Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2008
Erik’s Pairing – 2009 Moscato “Brilliant Disguise”:  Two Hands

My Pick – Wine
Erik’s Pick – Wine

Comments: I completely misjudged the nature of this desert. I was expecting something more like Crème Brule. The Vintage Ale, though brilliant, completely missed the mark. A Lindeman’s Peach Lambic would have rocked it though.

Seventh Course: Assiette des Fromages
My Pairings – Boulevard Tank 7 Saison & Samuel Smith India Ale
Erik’s Pairing – NV Tawny Port “Grandfather”:  Penfolds

My Pick – Wine
Erik’s Pick – Wine

Comments: By this point the competition no longer mattered. The beer was opened and never touched, even by me. It’s hard to compete with a really good port.

We were going for excess, and we got excess in abundance. No one went home hungry and there was enough great beer and wine poured to insure a rough morning for many of us. We are already planning the next event, to take place in Minneapolis. Perhaps we’ll keep it to five courses next time.

Many thanks to Erik and his wife Melissa for hosting. The food was absolutely brilliant.

Yet Another New Brewery in the Twin Cities Metro

Minnesota really is experiencing a brewing boom. I recently published an article on Heavy Table highlighting five up-and-coming Minnesota breweries, three of which were locating in the TC Metro area. A couple of days ago Sun Newspapers published a piece about Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park. Seems they are working to change local ordinances to allow growler sales from the brewery. Needless to say, I will be looking into this new upstart and reporting when I know more. In the meantime, check out the article in the Sun.

Yet Another Highest Alcohol Beer

Word is already all over the internet (thanks in part to an “accidental” posting earlier this week), Scotland’s Brewdog has scored a definitive point in their high-alcohol brawl with Germany’s Schorschbräu. The End of History is what they are calling this new super-strength creation and it comes in at 55% ABV. At least the packaging is interesting.

Here’s a link to more.


Fall Beer Classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill

Join me for more great beer classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill this fall. I’m teaming up once again with Chef Mike Shannon and Sommelier Leslee Miller to compare and contrast come harvest seasonal beers, wines, and cuisine. Belgian and Bavarian beers are on tap, as well as a beer tour of the Land-o-Lakes.

Here’s the descriptions:

Belgian Beer and Snacks
With Chef Maggie Lyon
Friday, September 24th, 6-9 PM
Cost: $70
Chuck your preconceived notions about beer out the window. From the sassy sours to tempting Trappists, no one else does beer like the Belgians. Join Cicerone Michael Agnew and sample your way through the uniquely complex beers of Belgium, while Chef Maggie prepares some traditional Belgian bar snacks to enjoy with them.
Menu: A Selection of Belgian Craft Beers; Mussels; Frites; Several Aïolis.

Fall Harvest Dinner: Beer and Wine Pairing
With Chef Mike Shannon and Sommelier Leslee Miller
Tuesday, September 28th, 6-9 PM
Cost: $75
With an abundance of late-summer vegetables comes time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Join Chef Mike as he creates a menu from a fabulous array of fall finds, while Sommelier Leslee and Cicerone Michael provide perfect wine and beer pairings for a harvest feast.
Menu: Grilled Shrimp Salad with Goat Cheese Fritters; Beef Carpaccio Crostini with Caramelized Onions and Bleu Cheese; Sausage-Stuffed Portobellos; Pork Loin with Mango Chutney; Baked Stuffed Apples.

Bavarian Beer Experience
Saturday, October 9th, 2-4 PM
Cost: $55
Eins, zwei, drei, g’suffa! When Crown Prince Ludwig organized a horse race to celebrate his wedding in 1810, little did he know he’d given rise to the greatest beer fest on the planet. Every fall, the streets of Munich flow with beer as tens of thousands converge on the Theresienwiese for Oktoberfest. Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew will give you a taste of the ‘fest with a tour of the famous beer styles of Bavaria.
Menu: An assortment of German Lager and Ale-Style Beers from Brewers in Bavaria as well as Craft-Brewed Versions from the U.S.; Brats; Pretzels.

Minnesota Suds: A Beer Tour of the Land o’ Lakes
Tuesday, November 2nd, 6-9 PM
Cost: $65
Does Minnesota make great beer? Oh ya, you betcha! Our state’s burgeoning brew scene now boasts nearly 20 breweries producing great year-round and seasonal suds. Your guide, certified Cicerone Michael Agnew, takes you on a tantalizing tour of the best brews the land o’ lakes has to offer.
Menu: A Selection of Beers from Minnesota Breweries and Brewpubs; Cheese; Snacks.

Go to Cooks of Crocus Hill to find out more or to register for a class.

Summit Unchained Series #4: Belgian Style Golden Ale

Nothing like starting the day off with a strong Belgian beer.

At least that’s what we said as I and my photographer friend Mark Roberts rolled up to the Summit Brewery at 7:00 AM yesterday morning. Hey, the Founding Fathers started the day with a draught of strong beer or cider, why shouldn’t we. For the record, the thought was also uttered that we may have lost our minds.

But roll up we did, because bright and early on Tuesday morning was the first packaging run for the newest Unchained Series beer, Belgian Style Golden Ale, which is set for official release next week. Brewed with Belgian pilsner malt, Belgian candi sugar, Czech Saaz and Styrian Goldings hops, it clocks in officially at 8.6% ABV (it might actually be a bit stronger than that…sshhhh), making it the strongest beer ever to come out of Summit. It’s a nice breakfast beer.

After watching the first bottles roll off the line to be packed for shipment later that day, we headed out to the hospitality room for a bit of tasting. A sixpack emerged still covered in foam from bottling. Caps were popped, samples were poured, cheers were offered, and sipping ensued. It’s a shame brewer Eric Harper, the man responsible for this golden elixir, had not yet arrived. But I will confess to a certain smug satisfaction at having tasted the finished product before even he did.

Harper did come in at about 7:30 and joined us at the bar for a chat. “I’m excited to have this come out.” he said. “It’s a little weird. It’s been in the fermenter for over six weeks. Up until the time we filtered it, it had more yeast in suspension than even the Hefeweizen does. It really changes the character when you take all that out. Plus when you taste it out of the fermenter you’re drinking kind of yeasty, flat beer. It’s a lot nicer when it’s finished.”

Harper’s choice of style for his Unchained Series beer was influenced by his own tastes. “I like drinking Belgian style beers. If I go out I order a Summit or two, but I really gravitate toward Belgian stuff. Making a Belgian also gave him an opportunity to experiment. “Belgians are particularly creative in their brewing method. They don’t have any limits. Bringing in the candi syrup was fun. We haven’t used anything like that here at Summit, or any kind of adjunct for that matter.”

Asked if he was inspired by a particular Belgian beer, Harper responded, “I wasn’t aiming for a particular beer. We tasted a couple of them around the bar and took things from here and there. I liked the fruity and estery characteristics. We tasted some that were pretty phenolic and hot from the high heat fermentation. I wanted to avoid that.”

Belgian Style Golden Ale will be the first of the Unchained Series beers to be released in a cask conditioned version. According to Harper, “Damian racked some casks of this awhile ago and they have been sitting in the cooler. He’ll re-rack them again to get some of the yeast out. He’s talked about priming with the candi syrup and adding a lot more Stryian Goldings.” Sounds tasty.

Harper has a full week of launch events ahead of him. Unchained #4 will be celebrated at multiple locations every night next week. You can check here for the full listing of events.

But enough chit chat. How’s the beer taste? Here’s my notes:

Belgian Style Golden Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Belgian Strong Golden Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Pronounced fruitiness, pear, candied peaches, hints of strawberry. Pepper and licorice. Sweet pilsner malt and sugary Belgian “cotton candy.” Alcohol is apparent.

Appearance: Deep golden color and crystal clear. Raised a substantial, fluffy, and persistent white head.

Flavor: Begins with sweet pilsner malt that extends through to the finish. Alcohol is prominent, particularly at the end, and is accentuated by the dry finish. It’s warming all the way down, but stops just short of hot. Loads of fruit, orange citrus, candied peach, and pears. These increased and developed complexity halfway through the glass as the beer warmed. Peppery and floral hops character balance the sweetness. Moderate bitterness is accentuated by a dry finish. Belgian yeast character remains subdued, a background of banana and “cotton candy.” This beer became much more delicate and complex as it warmed in my glass.

Mouthfeel: High attenuation makes this a medium body beer. High carbonation. Creamy and mouth-filling. Alcohol warming is high.

Overall Impression: Another fine beer from the Unchained Series. Like many American versions of Belgian styles, it lacks some of the subtle complexity and finesse of the best Belgian examples, but is still a worthy effort. The alcohol is a more prominent than I would prefer, but the fruit notes are lovely. It developed in delicacy and depth as it warmed in my glass. I’m drinking this on my patio on a humid 93° evening and it is completely refreshing.

Brewery photos by Mark Roberts.