The right beer and food pairing is a delicate art and one that is hard to perfect. The ideal match is one that improves the flavour of the beer and food, elevating both in a sublime manner. Trying to perfect one pairing is tough, but doing ten courses for a large group is a challenge most restaurants would not accept. Individual palates and preferences make the art of pairing even more complicated, but beerbistro was up to the challenge this past Tuesday evening. The people behind Dieu du Ciel! were brought in as part of the Winterlicious festival and ten of their beers were matched with food prepared by beerbistro. Dieu du Ciel! is arguably the best brewery in Canada and make a fantastic range of beers, so the pressure was on beerbistro to deliver a menu that would rival the beers.
The first course was a seared scallop with corn and white beer puree, topped with a beet chip. The Blanche du Paradis (Ratebeer) was chosen as the match, a Belgian white brewed with coriander and orange peel. JF and Stephane from DDC! explained that this was one of their earlier beers, back when they were trying to brew traditional styles. The scallop was nicely cooked and the corn puree slowly faded away to let the scallop shine. The Blanche du Paradis refreshed the palate, letting the flavours of the food shine in each bite. Neither element overwhelmed the taste buds, making it a nice starter.
Next up was a squab pithivier, which essentially means pie (see photo). This tasty little morsel was given the difficult task of taming the Route des Épices (Ratebeer), a peppercorn rye beer. The pie brought out the caramel and raisin flavours in the beer, but there was enough of the pepper heat left over to add an extra layer to the dish. A fine pairing that was quickly outdone by a wild boar belly rillette (similar to pate, but in individual cups) and Caserne 30 (Ratebeer), a smoked weisse beer. The brewer Luc explained that this was their tamest smoked beer and gave some insight into the decisions involved in making a beer with smoked malt.The Caserne 30 was my first foray into smoked wheat beers and really amazed me with its balance. It smelled like clothes the day after a campfire – not too potent and with an underlying lightness. It looked light a weisse beer, but the taste was an adventure. An initial hit of smokey bacon, two seconds of esters and citrus, then a residual smoke aftertaste creeps in and lingers in the mouth. The rillette was fatty and delicious, but displayed the same aggressive/tender combination as the beer.
Taking a step back in terms of intensity was a duck salad, paired with Dernière Volonté (Ratebeer). The beer was an amazing fresh keg, producing lots of green hop aromas and flavours. The arugula really matched the dry and bitter qualities, while the dressing was similar to the fruitier elements in the Volonté. It felt like the salad was trying to be the food version of the beer and it was a concept that worked quite well. The duck was well prepared, but didn’t add much to the pairing. Trying to follow the rillette was also a tough task, so this course was more to refresh the palate. Up next was a smoked trout ravioli and Revenante (Ratebeer), a smoked porter that had been aged for fourteen months. A lot of the smoked malt was made over cherrywood, giving a nice aroma to the beer. This was a bigger, smokier beer compared to the Caserne 30, but was still balanced nicely by the roasted malts. Most people at my table loved the pairing, but I found the sauce slightly too acidic. It was obviously devised to cut through the smoke, but they just did not play well off each other in my opinion.
The poutine trend may be wearing some folks thin by now, but the sweetbread poutine with housemade goat milk cheese curds was much anticipated by my table. The gravy was extremely rich and more of a reduced sauce from a braised piece of meat, which means it was deliciously salty. The sweetbreads and cheese were both nice, even if the cheese didn’t squeak. A fresh Corne du Diable (Ratebeer) brought lots of hops to cut through the fattiness of the gravy, but still adding enough caramel and fruity notes that they didn’t clash. The big finish of lamb two ways was next, the two ways being a croquette and Frenched chop. Another round of big flavours was paired with a Scotch ale, Cornemuse (Ratebeer). The beer had dark, rich toffee tones and was surprisingly bitter. The croquette was well prepared, filled with a tender shredded lamb and coated with panko breadcrumbs. The chop was a little tough, but well seasoned. A side of kale, sweet onions and yams helped to add some contrast to the plate. The linkage between the lamb and beer wasn’t evident, but the flavours were fine together.
And this is where my notes start to get fuzzy (and I throw all integrity out the window). We’re now seven courses in and the beer is start to sink in. The fact that someone at my table is regularly giving glasses away (they’re allergic to lots of hops, if you can believe it!) is not helping. So the last courses are a mishmash of notes and rememberings. While not an outrageous pairing, the blue cheese and barley wine course was needed after so much meat. Blue cheese has never appealed to me, but I actually enjoyed the Ermite – not too funky or briny. The cheese was served with two of the tiniest pancakes I’ve ever seen, plus a bit of maple syrup. The barley wine was obviously the Solstice d’Hiver (Ratebeer), which brought out all those weird elements that turns me off blue cheese. The pancake and maple syrup were much welcomed as a means of coating my tongue so it didn’t get covered in brine. I got through the course, though not everyone at my table did.
The first dessert course was Aphrodite (Ratebeer) (or Aphrodisiaque if you’re in Quebec) ice cream with vanilla, Grand Marnier and a tuille spoon. The spoon was the highlight of the dish for presentation alone. I couldn’t taste any Grand Marnier and the flavours of the beer and ice cream were too similar. The Rigor Mortis (Ratebeer) carrot cake didn’t excel either. The cake was okay, but the nuts may have been toasted a little too long. The nuts didn’t match the nutty notes in the beers and they stood out awkwardly in each element because of it. Not the best ending, but there had already been enough food that it didn’t matter.
Even though the finish was lacking, the overall meal was excellent. Yes, only three beers were new to me, but the beerbistro kitchens did some fantastic work in creating dishes that opened up new flavours in the beers. The dinner was well executed and left everyone very satisfied. I highly recommend going to the next beerbistro dinner. Thanks to everyone from Dieu du Ciel!, beerbistro and HMH Negotiants for a fantastic night!