Pairing Beer with Hearty German Comfort Food

Food and beer pairing doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. We hear a lot about pairing the right foods with the right wine, but not enough about the true diversity of beers, and how the right combination can create a unique dining experience. With the explosion of craft breweries lately, we think it’s time that beer and food pairing steps into the limelight.

Brewers’ Plate

That’s why we were thrilled by the Brewers’ Plate event in Toronto back in May. They get it! With a classy rock ‘n’ roll theme (wear your concert tees and blazers), it brought local restaurants and breweries together to show us how it’s done.

Brewers Plate, Toronto, Hoppily Ever After

Inspired by the event, we at Hoppily Ever After and Heather from Hamilton Small Fries decided to cook up a beer pairing feast of our own.

Beer Pairing 101

We started with the most basic rule in beer and food pairing: match strength with strength. You don’t want the strength of either the beer or food to overpower the other. To put it in the language of cheese, don’t match your Imperial stout with a creamy, mild Brie. But you might want to match it with a sharp old cheddar.

Though we usually default to aiming for complementing flavours, there’s actually three C’s of beer pairing: 

  • Complement – pair similar flavour profiles (e.g.  chocolate cake with sweet stout, Southern brisket and rauchbier)
  • Contrast – pair opposite flavour profiles, to bring out the flavours of the other (e.g. spicy food and malty beer, salty food and sour beer)
  • Cut – pair something that can cut through a dish’s richer flavours (e.g. spicy food and hoppy beer)

And in thinking about the three C’s, don’t forget all the flavour elements you could have. To start with: the malt, the hops, the carbonation? What about added flavours like fruit, herbs & spices, or chocolate? How about acidity, salt, or heat levels?

Beer sampling glasses, Hoppily Ever After
Preparing our varied collection of sample glasses

The Food & Beer Pairing Feast

We couldn’t resist a classic beer-producing region as our starting point: Germany. We had the benefit of Heather‘s epic cookbook collection as our starting point. Luckily, she had the perfect vintage German cookbook.

Beer and German food pairing, Hoppily Ever After

Main Course

Our main course was Schweinskoteletten mit Knackwurst und Kartoffeln – that’s Pork Chops with Knackwurst and Potatoes, for those not from the Old Country. We substituted Bockwurst (like a German-style hot dog rather than the more intense sausage-flavour you might picture) for the Knackwurst, and no one knew the difference.

German stew, Beer, Hoppily Ever After

We chose Old Tomorrow’s Track 85 Lagered Ale as our beer, and it was a very successful pairing. With the smoothness of a ale, and the crispness of a lager, this German-style Altbier complemented the mild pork chops, potato, and bockwurst, and contrasted the acidity and sweetness of the tomatoes and Gherkins in the dish (yes, Gherkins).

Vegetable Side Dish

The veggie side we chose was Bohnensalat, or “French” Bean Salad. A salad with a witbier is usually a good bet for a complementary pairing, with oil/vinegar/spices of the food matching the citrus/spices of the beer.

Food and beer pairing, Hoppily Ever After

Black Oak’s Beat the Heat, a Belgian style witbier, fit the bill perfectly. The citrus and coriander of this light, classic Wit perfectly complemented the tanginess of the beans.

Dessert

We picked up an apple strudel at Denninger’s, our local German and international grocery store. We aimed for a Hefeweizen that we thought might be a complementary flavour. Unfortunately, this was a match that didn’t work as well. The apple strudel was delicious, the beer was delicious. But together? They just didn’t really pair well.

Food and beer pairing, Hoppily Ever After

Refined Fool’s My Cousin Knows the Drummer hefeweizen, with its cloudy light gold tone, definitely looks the part. However we found it a bit more sour than the hefeweizens we were used to. This meant it wasn’t a perfect match for the sweetness of the strudel, but it also wasn’t far enough into sour territory to contrast. Doing this again, we’d find something malty to complement the warmth and sweetness of the strudel, or perhaps a sessionable IPA to contrast. Or, we’d have My Cousin Knows the Drummer with something like a lemon meringue pie!

Details

Want to learn more about the food in these posts? Check out Heather’s post at Hamilton Small Fries

Brewers Plate, Hoppily Ever AfterCheck out the Brewers Plate! Fun event, food & beer, and it’s for a good case. This year they raised $9,000 for War Child. #rocktheplate

Finally, this October, Jessica from here at Hoppily Ever After, and Heather from Hamilton Small Fries will be leading two tours during Hamilton’s new culinary week, NOSH Week! Find our “Paired: A Food and Beer Pairing Tour”, and “Spooky Spirits: A Cocktail and Food Pairing Tour” on Thursday October 20 and 21, 2016. 

5 Paddles Brewing, Whitby

Whitby’s 5 Paddles Brewing has this brewery thing down. They’ve got a cohesive brand (paddles & canoes!), a cool place to hang out, and a really creative – and apparently constantly changing – beer list.

5 Paddles Brewing, Whitby, Ontario, Durham, Hoppily Ever After, craft beer
Apparently it’s Belgian Midnight Paddler season in their shop.

THE PLACE

With the reused/industrial chic style that’s very popular right now, blended with their paddle-heavy, canoe-friendly, wood-burned style, the 5 Paddles tasting room seemed like a really popular place to hang out (we can understand why). We dropped by at the Happy Hour on a weekday, and it was full of people who apparently just came from work.

5 Paddles Brewing, Whitby, Ontario, Durham, Hoppily Ever After, craft beer
It took a while to get a photo without lurking on someone’s conversation in the relatively small space.

THE BEER

The beer widely ranged in terms of tastes and flavours, but there was a definite Belgian influence on a few. We tried a bit of everything on offer, and here are our results:

  • Belgian Midnight Paddler – described as a “Royal Canadian Quad” it’s about halfway between an Imperial Stout and a Belgian Quad. It’s got the roastiness of a stout, and the sweet tanginess of a Belgian abbey ale. Rich with a chocolate-y flavour, and quite an alcoholic kick (it’s 10% ABV)
  • Minotaur in a Canoe on Fire – the winner for Josh, it’s part of “the Dark Knights of Durham” series (a collaboration with Manantler , Old Flame, and Brewer’s Pantry), and it’s an Imperial Coconut Baltic Porter. The coconut is strong (as is te alcohol, at 8.4% ABV), and the Baltic porter part means it’s also sweet. Josh describes it as boozy, yet somehow still light enough to drink in hot weather. Jessica found it a bit too sweet-strong for her tastes.
  • Italian Backyard – a basil-ale. It’s a rich yet light and refreshing ale with a green and herbal flavour. Unfortunately, neither of us could really discern the basil part of it per se, but both enjoyed this as a sessionable ale.
  • Home Sweet Home – Jessica’s winner, and one that’s apparently a regular on 5 Paddles’ taps. It’s a wheat ale, but unlike we’d tried –  honey malt and vanilla blend to make a caramelly taste reminiscent of a Werther’s Original.
  • Brother Ian’s Belgian 4 – A Belgian single, unfiltered, with a fruity lightness and a hint of sourness. A beer that both of us at Hoppily Ever After could agree on.

5 Paddles Brewing, Whitby, Ontario, Durham, Hoppily Ever After, craft beer

We just wish we lived a bit closer so we could explore their seasonal and one-offs throughout the year!

Wishlist: drop by for (or have someone pick up) some Halloween brews when that season comes along.

5 Paddles Brewing, Whitby, Ontario, Durham, Hoppily Ever After, craft beer

THE FOOD

There’s a cheese board, but that’s about it.

5 Paddles Brewing is a place you come for the beer!

THE EXTRAS 

In addition to their little bottle shop, currently full of Belgian Midnight Paddler bottles, they’ve got the usual glasses and t-shirts – AND, some neat wood-burned stuff like a lot of the decor in the brewery.

5 Paddles Brewing, Whitby, Ontario, Durham, Hoppily Ever After, craft beer

Visit date: June 22, 2016

Bell City Brewing, Brantford

Bell City Brewing is an unimposing small brewery at the edge of the unimposing small city of Brantford. It has a range of beer from a range of styles, with new seasonals and one-offs popping up regularly.

Bell City Brewery, Brantford, Hoppily Ever After, craft beer

THE PLACE

We dropped it on a quiet afternoon in March, and we were the only ones there, so we were able to sidle right on up to the bar to chat with the bartender. It looked like a nice place to while away an afternoon, and we bet it could become a hang-out destination for local good beer fans. And there’s a great view of the brewery itself!

Bell City Brewery, Brantford, Hoppily Ever After, Ontario, craft beer, beer

THE BEER

There’s a few Bell City year-round brews that will be familiar to LCBO-visitors, namely the charmingly branded Eureka! Cream Ale (get the inventor connection yet?) and Lenoir Belgian Style Ale.

Bell City Brewery, Brantford, Hoppily Ever After, Ontario, craft beer, beer

At the brewery, we did the $5 sampling flights. The sign said the flight included four 5 oz beers, but they had five on tap while we were there, so each of them were included (bonus!)

Bell City Brewery, Brantford, Hoppily Ever After, Ontario, craft beer, beer

It was March during our visit, so they were still into more wintry brews. We tried:

  • Eureka Cream Ale (year-round) – They call it a pre-prohibition cream ale, and it’s both richer than some cream ales, and has a more hop-forward profile. The creaminess is still there, and it gives an overall smooth taste to this gently bitter brew.
  • Raven’s Heart Belgian Stout (winter seasonal) –  A winner for us at Hoppily Ever After. Rich, thick, and very roasty with a hint of banana and clove (the Belgian style elements shining through).
  • Lenoir Belgian Style Ale (year-round) – Another really great brew. Those sweet-tangy Belgian yeast flavours in a lovely golden ale with a hint of clove.
  • Elijah’s Real McCoy (year-round) – Perfect example of a kölsch – other than not being brewed in Cologne, Germany, of course. Light but more complex than your usual light lager (kölsch is a lagered ale).
  • The Mad Mechanic of Belfast (one-off)- We got lucky with this one. It seems that it was rare enough that it’s not even listed on their site with other one-offs – and we do both enjoy Irish Red Ales.  This one was malty for an Irish red, with a hint of the light bitterness you might taste in an English bitter, but well-balanced so as not to overpower.

Bell City Brewery, Brantford, Hoppily Ever After, Ontario, craft beer, beer

On our wishlist: Cherry Brown Ale, a summer seasonal, and winner of Session Toronto 2015!

THE FOOD

Where we got lucky with the one-off Irish Red Ale, we got unlucky with the food. They were just about to start serving food when we dropped by. They apparently do now!

Bell City Brewery, Brantford, Hoppily Ever After, Ontario, craft beer, beer

THE EXTRAS

Yes, that’s Bell as in Alexander Graham Bell. Also known as the “Telephone City”, Bell City Brewing plays up their namesake from decor around the brewery to their “inventor series” of beers.

Bell City Brewery, Brantford, Hoppily Ever After, Ontario, craft beer, beer

Our Visit Date: March 20, 2016

Pub Crawl: The Winking Judge, Hamilton

The fact that The Winking Judge is our go-to bar at home in Hamilton is no coincidence. It’s an amazing pub for craft beer lovers, with an impressive craft/microbrew selection.

Winking Judge for Craft Beer - Hoppily Ever After

THE PLACE

The Judge has a classic British pub feel – stained glass, brick, climbing ivy up the exterior walls. Even a fireplace inside (not working, but still – it’s there). It’s on Augusta Street, in Hamilton, part of the string of pubs in tall skinny Victorian houses. The clientele is a mix between the young and hip (and/or hipster), and older downtown regulars, but it’s a comfortable blend.

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The main and second floor are both bar areas,  with wooden seats, beer-branded collectibles galore, threadbare little couches, heavy wooden chairs, and benches tucked here and there. There’s also a front patio alongside the rest of the Augusta pubs, and a back patio with a ceiling of vines.

THE BEER

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Selection from back in November 2015

The beer is the #1 reason to visit the Judge. With 22 constantly changing taps and one cask (for real cask ale, also rotating), there’s a huge selection.

The big chalkboard is your invitation to this world. Beers are often chosen based on the season, so expect lighter and fruitier in the warmer weather, dark and stronger in the winter, and pumpkin and spices in the autumn.

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The majority of the drinks on offer are Ontario craft beer, but they also have decent selections beyond: including Quebec, US, and some European.

THE FOOD

It’s a beer-focused pub first, so don’t expect fireworks with the food. That said, it’s a solid menu of pub grub: you can’t really go wrong with wings (Wednesday is their cheap wing night) and the nachos always taste fresh.

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THE EXTRAS

As befits a proper pub in a Victorian-era home, the Winking Judge is apparently haunted. If you poke around the pub, you’ll see a newspaper article framed on the wall from a 2008 ghost hunt, where the paranormal investigators say they captured a child’s voice on tape saying “I can hear you.” Whether you hear the hauntings may depend on how many glasses of Delirium Tremens you have beforehand – but don’t take our word for it.

Spirits at the Winking Judge, Hamilton - Hoppily Ever After

In terms of less paranormal extras, you can get your name on a plaque on the wall. Just complete what the sign calls an “Irish coffin”:  have 25 different beerswithin 2 months.   Jessica has her name up there, though Josh has yet to get his.

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Brew Roundup: Russian Imperial Stout

There’s no middle-ground with a Russian imperial stout – you either love them or hate them. Pitch-black in colour with a rich, bitter flavour, these brews are most commonly found and best enjoyed during the depths of winter.

800px-Alexander_II_of_Russia_photo
Czar Alexander II

Despite the name, this style was created by the English. In the 18th Century, they created this style to be exported to Russia, to be enjoyed by czars and their families. To ensure that the beer would make the trip without going bad, these stouts were brewed with double the alcoholic volume of a typical stout, and loaded up with hops.

The Russian royals enjoyed the beer despite the changes to the brew, and Russian imperial stout has a small-ish but dedicated following today, including us at Hoppily Ever after – Josh in particular.

Choosing your brew

Like many specific styles in the craft beer community today, Russian imperial stout has a surprising amount of variance. In our very scientific description, the brews range from “kinda-heavy” to “super-heavy”. What we mean by that they typically start at 8% ABV, but can easily drive right on up to 15%, or even higher.

A deep, dark stout*

Because these beers have to be aged for several months to develop properly, breweries often create uniqueness in their products by aging their brews with added ingredients like fruit or roasted coffee beans, or in specialized containers such as wine or whiskey barrels.

Let’s start with some basics

To get a taste of what Russian imperial stout is, here’s a list to try that follow the basic style guidelines.

Grand River Brewing – Russian Gun

This is probably the best to start with, as it’s among the lightest and least bitter. A dark, malty taste and only light roastiness. It’s named after the cannon in downtown Galt (Cambridge), where Grand River brews from, and in commemoration of a tragic story surrounding the cannon itself.

Russian Gun Imperial Stout - Hoppily Ever After

Wellington Brewery – Imperial Russian Stout

That’s not a mistake – they just reversed the name. Rich and bold,  with notes of coffee and chocolate.

Sawdust City – Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus

Great name for a great beer. For a high-alcohol beer, it has a surprisingly dry finish (think Guinness), but still a rich flavour and refreshing bitterness – if you find bitterness refreshing, of course.

Sawdust city Imperial Stout - Hoppily Ever After

Nickel Brook Brewery – Bolshevik Bastard

It’s another big, bold brew (not surprising with Russian imperial stouts). On the roast-ier side, Bolshevik Bastard is brewed with a flavour reminiscent of dark chocolate.

And now for something a little different…

Some interesting offerings from Ontario craft breweries that play with the style description a bit.

Nickel Brook Brewery – Winey Bastard & Kentucky Bastard

Nickelbrook Imperial Stouts - Hoppily Ever After

Both of these are simple alterations on their Bolshevik Bastard. The first is aged in local Pinot Noir barrels, giving it a subtle red wine taste. The second is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, blending a sweet bourbon oakiness and a warming feeling throughout.

Beau’s All Natural – The Bottle Imp

Many Russian imperials are brewed to resemble roasted coffee – here’s one that’s actually brewed with roasted coffee. It has a maltier finish, probably to offset the added bitterness from the coffee, and a subtle anise taste. This one definitely stands out from the pack.

 

*Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/10413717@N08/15933479008