Category Archives: pairing

Ü Two Should Meet – Chocolate & Beer Pairings

It was my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary recently. As a celebration, a family friend sent over a box of chocolates that were, to put it mildly, a decadent experience that transported us all to Cloud 9. Rich, smooth, creamy, and bursting with flavour, we vowed never to get celebration chocolates from the grocery store again. The chocolates were made by Ü Chocolate for the World a local business run by Mother & Son team Lydia and Andy Yue. Lydia, a longtime veteran chocolate maker, originally rose to confectionary stardom with her business Chocolateur, which had two storefronts in London, Ontario’s Masonville Place and Toronto’s Eaton Centre. Now, after an absence of more than twenty years, Lydia has returned and making confectionaries with high quality ingredients and incredibly rich and creamy swiss chocolate.

If you’re in Toronto, Ü Chocolate for the World has a temporary storefront at Holt Renfrew (50 Bloor Street West) for the 13th and 14th only. If you miss those dates or live elsewhere in North America, you’re in luck! They’re primarily an online shop, and can provide boxes of their wonderful truffles, chocolate coated fruits, and custom gift novelties.

So anyways…after being sent to heaven with these chocolates, I thought that it was about time I did a post on chocolate and beer pairing. And what better way to level the quality playing field than by pairing excellent beers with excellent chocolates? After all, a bar of generic, waxy, milk chocolate bought in a grocery store is going to provide a different experience than a well-crafted chocolate made with quality ingredients. It pays to have good quality on both sides of the pairing to get the best overall experience.

So chocolate primarily seems to go well with the darker beers such as stouts, porters and brown ales, with the occasional nod going to Barley Wines or a nice Pilsner. But like all pairings, it all depends on your personal preference to taste as well as the quality of what you’re pairing.

Now, for the selection of some of these, I went with what seemed to me like a fairly logical pairing based on what I knew about the beers. Sometimes they worked out, sometimes they didn’t and I had to figure out something else. As a result, I not only went with a dark and milk chocolate truffle pairing, but also went for two of the flavoured ones as well (I mean hey, you get a box of chocolates and it’s not just straight up milk and dark, right?). I have to say in, ahem, researching for this post, I was quite surprised by the tastes that went with the beers selected.

So here we go.

Dark Chocolate – Mort Subite Kriek Sour Cherry Lambic

Mort Subite Kriek is usually a beer I break out when I learn that a person doesn’t drink beer because of the bitter taste. It’s a good introduction to the versatility of beer and is a lovely occasional treat to pick up at the LCBO. While this particular one, brewed in Belgium’s Brouwerij Mort Subite, is made with cherries, the brewery does have a Raspberry variation as well. I find that one a bit too sweet though, and appreciate the wonderful sour cherries used in the Kriek.

I always love matching rich, bitter, dark chocolate with the taste of cherries and the choice of pairing the dark chocolate truffle with the cherry lambic was a wise one. The tartness was brought out more with the chocolate and provided a breif, wonderful explosion of cherry and cocoa, almost as if I was eating a cherry flavoured truffle. As the flavours died down, the sour notes of the lambic continued to swirl around my tongue while the chocolate provided and nice, creamy finish.

Mango – Chimay Grande Réserve (Blue Cap) Dark Belgian Ale

Admittedly this one threw me for a bit of a loop. The Mango certainley wasn’t my first choice for the pairing, but as an experiment I decided to try it out and…well, it worked. Marvelously in fact. Definitely helps that the chocolate was of extremely high quality, with the Mango flavours less overt and medicinal and more natural and subtle. The dried fruit and malty notes of the Chimay blended nicely with the subtle Mango note at the back. The alcohol burn I normally find in this Dark Belgian ale was all but diminished, making for a creamy, slightly dessert-like experience.

Milk Chocolate – Black Oak Nut Brown Ale

Again, I had a bit of a trial and error with this one. Unfortunately, dark chocolates paired with this beer just didn’t do either of them justice. But there was the Milk Chocolate truffle and I thought “Why not? Two longtime, solid favourites coming together. Let’s see how it goes.” and sure enough, it went well. The sweet creaminess of the milk chocolate matched the dark, slightly bitter malty notes and distinctive hop characteristics perfectly.

Irish Cream – Wellington Russian Imperial Stout

You can’t go wrong with Irish Cream Coffee, and the Wellington Russian Imperial Stout, with it’s strong cocoa and coffee flavours, was the perfect pairing for the milk chocolate Irish Cream chocolate and made for a wonderful final pairing on par with a nice cup of coffee with dessert.

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Beer & Food Pairing

I’ll be honest, this post is a long time coming. Truthfully, I’ve had the most problem just STARTING the damn thing. Any writer knows that the kick-off point in a piece of writing is one of the worst and I’ve been stuck with that for a couple of weeks while also getting used to having some sort of a life outside of work and beer (video games, they’re going to be big). Over the course of being stuck I promised myself that under no circumstances will I just start this post with a “it’s been hard for me to start this” paragraph. And heeeeeere we freakin’ are.

Anyways.

Beer and food pairing. Let’s talk about this.

This is a subject that I really love learning more about and which I honestly am still at the beginning stages of understanding. While there is no single right way to look at this, I’ll try my best to explain how I see this and give a few examples.

To start out with some base knowledge, here’s a clip from Disney’s Ratatouille in which the main character Remy brings up the visualization of flavour.

If you can’t watch the clip at work or hate Disney for some twisted reason, the point of it is that there are an almost infinite number of flavour combinations out there, both simple and complex, that can make one unified flavour that is something completely different and amazing. Although the above clip was talking about food, I believe this thought crosses over to pairing as well. Take a selected beer and a selected dish and combine them to create an experience, something that combines the two elements to create one. And that’s pretty much how I see pairing.

From there you can go in to the trial and error stage, which can be fun but comes with the risk of just not working out in your meal (but hey, an excuse to order another beer is a good one). And while there are no rigid rules like wine (I remember the “red with red, white with white” rule being hit over my head when I was younger), there are some good tips people have found that you can choose to follow or ignore. Here’s a few that I’ve picked up from my own experiences or from the advice of others:

–       A hoppy IPA can bring out the heat in a good, spicy curry and a crisp and cold pilsner can tone it down.

–       A stout with heavy chocolate notes can pair well with vanilla ice cream, raspberries, or even trifle.

–       A nice IPA can bring out spiced lamb in wonderful ways.

–       Hard Cider and Pork. Yep. It works just as well as porkchops and applesauce.

–       A pilsner can cut down on the greasiness of bacon while successfully keeping the smoked taste. A stout with heavy coffee notes can make a good breakfast.

–       A light saison brings an added sweetness to seafood like lobster, scallops or shrimp.

And even then, it’s just personal opinion and taste. As the song goes, “what might be right for you, might not be right for some”. But pairing a food with beer is really a fun rabbit hole to go down due to the limitless possibilities of pairings. Cookies? Go forth and discover. Pizza? Whatever works. Braised Herbed Rabbit with Mustard Sauce? Best of luck. Sausage? WHAT KIND?

There are many ways to learn more on pairings and improve your palate. For books ‘Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink’ by Randy Mosher has a really great section on the subject. There is of course the above mentioned trial and error option, where you figure things out for yourself (I personally like trying to figure out the best beer to go with a burger while taking the condiments in to consideration). A handy tip is to be sure to read the description on the bottles of certain beers as the brewmaster may have some pairing suggestions that they feel best compliments their beer. And also, depending where you are, there are always classes and events going on, put on by a brewery, importer, restaurant or some combination of the three.

A recent examples of a pairing event: A while back I went to the first in a series of quarterly beer pairing dinners at Bier Markt here in Toronto (King St. West location). Operations Manager Daniel Schmidt and Chef Kris Tatemichi brought forth a total of six courses along with beers to accompany each one. Although that sounds intimidating as hell, the servings sizes weren’t monstrous and each pairing was allowed to have their moment. As each course was being served to us, Daniel would talk a little bit about the beer that was being paired with the dish and why it was selected and Chef Kris would talk about the dish. While there were some small problems to be associated with a first time event (The section for the dinner wasn’t separated from the local crowd who came in, making for a noisy night) and some of the pairings missed the mark for me personally, the good outweighed the bad with inspired pairings such as housemade apple and pork sausage paired with Poperings Hommelbier (a beer that on first taste almost resembles tree bark but combined with the sausage to create a smooth, earthy and delicious combination that I remember still), Picked Ontario Mushrooms and Schnieder Weisse Tap 7 (when combined made for a very creamy, rich dish) and Bier Beignets with pastry creme and Sinha reduction with Unibroue’s La Maudite Strong Amber-Red (which made for an elegant and creamy taste that wrapped up the event nicely). I left the night feeling like I had gotten an education and a few new base blocks of understanding in my own pairing explorations and experiments.

Although that was a good exception, I give you a warning about pairing events: They can be a little unbalanced at times, sometimes focusing more on the food or more on the beer depending on who is putting the event on. Too many times have I been to a pairing where the beer selection was an afterthought and it just fell short. By all means check them out, but be aware that it’s possible it may miss the mark for you.

In the end, the important thing is to have fun with it and go with what works for you. As long as you like it, there is no “wrong” pairing. Just keep on combining and figuring it out and you’ll be fine.

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4 Comics, 4 Beers

Hey folks. I know it’s been a while since I’ve made a post on here, but to say “stuff came up” would be a HUGE understatement. If any of you were concerned, thank you. But I’m back now and have a few posts lined up. Let’s get started with this one.

COMICS! I love reading them. Most of you out there probably love reading them. I’ve been thinking of shaking a bit of my creative pairing muscles lately by doing one of these comic/beer pairings and not go so obvious like “Captain America would drink a Bud” or “Wolverine would drink a Molson Canadian” that a lot of similar posts on other blogs have done (Wolverine strikes me as an O’Keefe’s man anyways). In the case of this post I have reached out to creators and publishers (success varied) and pulled several nerd muscles in order to bring you four comics with a beer pairing that would I would not only suggest the to the character, but also the reader. Enjoy.

#1: THE GHOSTBUSTERS

So, as some readers here know, I’m a bit of a Ghostbusters fan. Okay, I’m a huge one. I love the films and was raised on the animated series. And after a while of being unimpressed with IDW’s previous runs with the title which had creators who just didn’t quite pinpoint the dynamic of our four guys, they brought in writer Erik Burnham and artist Dan Schoening in and I really suggest any Ghostbusters lovers check it out. Well-written, well researched and includes plenty of little easter eggs throughout that only the diehard fan will get.

So what beer would I pair with these guys? Easy. Brooklyn Lager by Brooklyn Brewery. It’s local, the malty finish and not-too-imposing hops notes make it incredibly refreshing after a rough day. Plus the Brooklyn Brewry itself, located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has some history. Once an Iron Works and later a Matzo Ball factory, it’s not unlikely that our boys would have to catch a ghost prowling around the building and, in gratitude, they would get a regular supply of cases. Sadly, creator Dan Akroyd is impossible to get a hold of to see if he would agree and Erik Burnham, current writer of the series, has yet to try the beer (but promises to in a couple of weeks when he’s at a convention)!

#2: WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE

From those that bust the dead to the dead themselves, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse is the brainchild of squid-obsessed artist Ben Templesmith and is about a corpse posessed by a worm from Hell who has been around since the beginning of time and has a penchant for drinking and chain smoking saving the universe with the help of his bodyguard and robotic drinking buddy. With crossdressing leprechauns, a secret order of strippers protecting the gateway to our world, squid-gods and an easily distracted four horseman of teh apocalypse, it’s not hard to understand why this is one of the most entertaining reads out there. If you can find the trades I would definitely suggest picking them up.  In fact, the first two issues are free on ComiXology right now. Go.

As for the beer pairing, I initially thought that he drank stout and actually reached out to Ben Templesmith for this one and he responded.

” He can’t drink stout, legally, apparently, according to what someone at IDW told me once years ago but fuck it, he DRINKS GUINNESS. Who can resist it?”

Indeed, who can? And while I’m certainly not going to argue with the pairing SUGGESTED BY THE CREATOR, I will humbly suggest that Old Rasputin Imperial Stout by North Coast Brewing would make a good companion with the book (afterall, Wormy and ‘ol Grigori probably used to be old mates and all).

#3: JOHN CONSTANTINE

Former Liverpool punk rocker magician and now chain smoking, alcoholic loner con man magician/detective living in London. Created by Alan Moore and first appearing in the Swamp Thing comic series in 1985, Constantine went on to his own title, “Hellblazer”, in 1988 and is DC Vertigo’s longest running title (and he also seems to be in the actual DC Universe now since the “New 52” Reboot. John Constantine is a man who knows everybody. Nuns, priests, demons, angels, politicians, gangsters, and is charismatic and rarely lacking in anticipating his next move. He’s also selfish, cynical and due to his actions has had almost everyone he cares about die. He’s conned the devil in to saving his life, hacked the wings off an angel and has been declared the most powerful magician in the world, but he still heads down to the pub for a few pints.

As for a pairing, I know that our John likes a good IPA and I have a feeling that he’d crack a smile on learning about Punk IPA by UK brewery Brew Dog. Nice hop profile with a balanced sweetness and pine flavour. Not too crazy, so it’s good to sip or knock back at a regular pace while thinking of other things (saving the world, a friend’s untimely death, wondering if that bastard angel Machiel will ever give you that fiver he owes you etc.). For John it’s a good beer to drink with the name of the beer maybe having him drift off in to a few memories of the old days, but for the reader it’s just a great pairing with the books.

#4 JUDGE DREDD

Somewhat of a timely choice to include Dredd as the film, Dredd 3-D has been released in a few countries and will soon be released here on Friday (I’m really looking forward to it!). IGNORE THE 1995 STALLONE FILM FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

Judge Dredd is a comic that has been running since 1977 and starts off in the year 2099 and since time passes in the comic in real time, comics put out in 2012 make the time date 2134. It’s set in a world where nuclear war has destroyed most of North America leaving only three huge city-state “mega-cities” the only habitable places. As this map of the world shows, the rest of the world is in similar a situation. The comic mostly takes place in Mega-City One, which stretches from Boston to Washington DC. It has a population of 800 million. Unemployment is high due to the population and many people live in large buildings known as “blocks” that house about 50,000 people each. The only government and law enforcement are the Judges, which keep the peace and run the city. Overseen by the Chief Judge, the Judges are administrators and “street Judges”, who make arrests and give on-the-spot sentancing (usually a very lengthy stay in an iso-cube, a solitary room). Within this city is Judge Joe Dredd, originally a clone from the first Chief Judge, Dredd is the toughest, meanest and best Street Judge the offer has. In the comics I’ve already read (The mammoth Complete Case File books 1-5 which cover comics from 1977 to 1982) he has saved the city from being destroyed more than twice, taken down to warmonger leaders and has been at the center of more than a few resistance forces. The stories in this comic can be grim, funny, satirical and just pretty to watch.

The two things I love about Judge Dredd are this: Many, MANY talented writers and artists have done at least one Dredd comic and it’s wonderful getting other artist’s take on the character. Also, this is one of the few Dystopian future worlds where the oppressive police/government force are actually the heroes. A nice little change from the usual “small group of freedom fighters” thing.

Time to admit something. Yeah, I know it’s a comic, but I can’t in good conscience give a beer that I think Dredd will enjoy or something that could be consumed in Mega-City One. The two big reasons, as confirmed by a rep from Dredd publishers 2000AD, are that Mega-City One only has synthetic alcoholic drinks, which if it’s anything like modern developments in that field where it is an additive, may not taste too great. The other reason is that quite simply Judges are not allowed to drink. So the best beer pairing I can offer you the reader would be Liberty Ale by Anchor Brewing Co. I think the name of the beer matches a bit of the humour found in the comics and the taste matches the hard bitterness of Dredd himself with a nice malt backbone to make it simple. Would definitely make an excellent reading companion.

And there we go. Hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I did writing it. I also hope that I may have turned you on to one or all of these comics. 🙂

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