Wednesday, January 20, 2010
My dad and I were invited down to Bellingham last month by family friends for one of Chuckanut Brewery's seasonal Beer Dinners. The meal consisted of a beer apéritif followed by three courses with accompanying beers, all served in the brewery, next to the very vats which hold the beer that you are enjoying!
Before each course, Brewmaster Will Kemper explained how each distinct beer is made and why it was being paired with each course. He also asked the two chefs at the brewery to come out several times and explain how they designed the dishes around the beer made at Chuckanut. In a pleasant and unexpected twist to the evening, Will informed us that we could help ourselves to as much beer as we would like, since "It's a brewery, afterall!"
The first dish was a delicate, crisp and invigorating Wild Greens Salad with Artichoke Cakes. This was paired with a Bavarian-style pilsner, the hoppiness of which acted as a counterpoint to the tang of the artichokes.
The entree was Beef Tenderloin and Wild Mushrooms, accompanied by Parmesan Potato Gratin Wedges and Garlic Haricot Vert. This was partnered with an Altbier (a German "old"-style beer). Altbiers are made with warm, top-fermenting yeast, and the beer is then aged and allowed to mellow for a short period after fermentation. This old-style process originating in Westphalia - involving fermentation at unusually low temperatures and the aging of the beer in cool conditions - results in a rich yet light and clean ale. This ale was a perfect choice because it complimented the beef, rather than overwhelming the dish, which could have happened with an English-style dark ale.
The dessert was a Hot Fudge Brownie, which was served (and made!) with Chuckanut's Foreign Stout. In addition to the glass of stout, the dessert was also served with a Stout Float, comprised of Thomas Kemper Root Beer, ice cream and...stout. I loved the ways in which the malty, earthy, leathery notes found in the stout were reflected in the dark, bittersweet brownie, but I didn't dig the float. The stout was packed with esters and cocoa qualities, so the float was just unnecessary. If anything, the float detracted from the stout.
Brewmaster Will Kemper told us something at the end of the night that was intuitive and logical, yet poignant: "Drink local beer!" Beer does go bad. Hops do react to sunlight and become bitter during transport. Changes in atmospheric pressure, temperature, light and storage facilities definitely affect carbonation, flavour, bouquet and bitterness. Drinking locally provides you with better beer, and it supports your community. For you Vancouverites: try Granville Island over Grolsch, imbibe some Phillips Blue Buck instead of some Pacifico, and buy a pint of Okanagan Spring next time you hit the pub rather than a pint of imported Oettinger Hefeweissen.