The annual Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywine Festival, held this year for the first time in Breckenridge after a decade in Vail, is renowned not only for an excellent blend of outstanding beers and wonderful people but also for the educational component put together by the hard-working staff of the Brewers Association. On Friday, we had the privilege of attending the Craftbeer.com Beer and Food Experience hosted by Mike Lawinski of FATE Brewing Company, Brewers Association Executive Chef Adam Dulye and Julia Herz, the Brewers Association Craft Beer Program Director. Through the course of the hour session, we worked through five pairings, each matching a classically prepared cassoulet with a different beer to different effect.
Each taster discovered a novel experience with each beer with every palate being attuned to different nuances but the overall lesson was one of synthesis and how the combining of flavors and sensation create a whole greater than the parts. Starting with FATE Brewing’s Roggenbier, it became obvious there were deeper interaction between the food and beer going on. Our first lesson was in how to taste, mastering a repeated method of sip – taste- sip. Sip the beer, let it linger, taste the food and then another taste of the beer to enjoy the blending of flavors and finish. The malt and rye notes of the roggenbier melded into a surprising sweetness when combined with the savory pork and bean dish, offering more complexity than either alone presented.
Down the line, each beer enhanced the experience of eating and drinking in novel fashion from the bright citrusy lemon note expressed by Crooked Stave’s Surrete Farmhouse to the peppery finish of the Sierra Nevada/Russian River collaboration beer Brux. Everyone in the room thought the spotlight pairing was certainly the outstanding nutty rich notes brought forward by Tröegs Doppelbock, Troegenator but the presenters had one more trick up their sleeve.
After detailing how the Brewers Association works to describe a beer when preparing for a pairing and then how Chef Dulye works from the other direction to match a beer with a food to create an experience, a lasting memory, Chef Dulye shared a memory of seeing a food service worker toasting wood with a blowtorch during his culinary travels. Inspired by this, our delicious cassoulet and Alaskan Brewing Winter Ale, we were presented with a branded spruce coaster, freshly seared with a torch and placed on top a glass of the Winter Ale.
The interaction of the toasted spruce aroma with the malt backbone of the winter seasonal with the wink and nod to the fresh spruce tips in the beer elevated the experience to a concrete memory that will not easily fade. When tasted with the cassoulet, unexpected notes of coconut and vanilla were present, solidifying the advancement of an easily accessible seasonal beer to a work of art. Eyes were opened, palates expanded and the march forward to legitimize the rightful place of beer at the table took strong strides forward. Thanks to the Brewers Association for their continuing efforts towards layman education and a wonderful start to a Friday night of beer exploration!
By: Greg Nelson