In a frankly not unprecedented act of pretentiousness, I recently attended a beer and food tasting at the fantastic Rookwood Bar & Cue in Liverpool.
Whilst I’ve never been overly sold on the idea of food and drink pairing, I am a big fan of the food at Rookwood and have been known to be partial to a beer on occasion so this seemed like a best of both worlds situation.
I didn’t know a lot about the event as it was booked by my friend Rob but when I saw the scoresheet I was pleasantly surprised to see Peerless, Mad Hatter and Black Lodge as the breweries who would be providing the beers. I’d been keen to try Black Lodge beers since first seeing their teaser of a website earlier this year.
For course one we were on salt baked beats with a Cascadian Rye Saison. I’ve only seen ‘Cascadian’ used in brewing in the context of a Cascadian dark ale, or what sensible people call a Black IPA so I was expecting this to be a black Saison which I was excited for!
It wasn’t black, it was Saison colour. Mildly hazy, golden colour with a nice white head and a beautiful peppery aroma.
Another first for me was beats which were really soft from having been baked and honestly the salad was delicious, very summery with lots of sweet flavours from raspberries and a lovely, creamy feta. This dish could have worked well as a dessert it was so sweet.
This first pairing was a perfect start to the evening and a great introduction to the world of food and beer pairing. The bone dry, peppery finish of the Saison cut right through the sweetness in the raspberries and gave me a confidence that suddenly I ‘got it’ and could begin to forge a career in food writing, taking food blog worthy pictures on my phone. Though I kept eating part of the meal before realising I hadn’t taken a picture which broke the illusion somewhat.
Paul from Black Lodge walked round the tables after the first course to ask people what they thought of the beer and the pairing and I did my best to sound like I knew what I was talking about. He seemed like a really nice bloke with a genuine interest in getting people’s feedback. And this first beer was very drinkable!
Course two is Scotch bonnet prawns with Peerless knee buckler IPA.
I’ve recently mentioned that I’m currently a little ‘over’ IPA – and it isn’t that I don’t like them, because I do. I love brewing them and I love drinking a really good one but they are like a favourite band in a way, I’ve overplayed them and now I need a little time away to appreciate just how good they are again.
That said, I’d met the guys from Peerless through work when we interviewed them about their Jinja Ninja beer and they had kindly provided us with a scaled down homebrew version of the recipe, plus they are from Birkenhead like me so I only ever expect good things from them.
And I wasn’t disappointed. The aroma alone was hugely impressive from this beer, lots of citrus and orange peel which is why it came as no surprise when the brewer told us it was made with Admiral, Columbus, Cascade and dry hopped with Citra.
I thought the citrus flavour from the beer worked nicely with the lime rice in this dish but overall the spicy sea food and pineapple meant there was a little bit too much going on in this for it to pair well. To me there was some residual sweetness in the IPA too and I prefer mine drier.
This course must have been the one everyone was looking forward to. Who doesn’t love steak?! Plus sweet potato mash which is my favourite.
We’d been told by the organiser before the tasting started that we were meant to be scoring based on the beer and how well it paired with the food and not to score based on the food alone. If we had been, this would have won.
Luckily, the beer it was paired with was just as good. The highly successful and readily available Penny Lane Pale Ale which had a lovely soft fruit and citrus aroma which was wonderfully inviting and which paired perfectly with the tender, juicy steak.
This beer has one of my favourite hop combinations too, Mosaic and Simcoe, so everything about this pairing was a winner for me.
I also learned that Angus, who used to brew for the Baltic Fleet was now brewing at Mad Hatter. I’d met Angus a few times at the Liverpool homebrew club and looked out for his beers which were always excellent and I got to try them at a CAMRA event in Liverpool and at the excellent Ship and Mitre beer festival in Port Sunlight. Great to see that his beers are still excellent!
Black Lodge Waimea sour with Braised Pig Cheeks (and what I thought were carrots but later transpired to be pickled rhubarb).
I am a huge fan of sour beers but I know Rob isn’t so I wasn’t expecting him to like this one. Even I have to admit, on aroma sour beers can be a little challenging, throwing up musty, dank scents that can seem less than appetising, which led to me writing the first comment of my review in my phone as ‘smells like arses’. I then wrote a quick caveat of, ‘some light sourness and toffee apples’.
There was a definite sweaty, mustiness to the aroma but the beer was absolutely delicous. Tart, refreshing and drinkable, it was exactly what I’m after in a sour beer. I didn’t feel it paired with the food very well though. Pork and mash is quite simple really and sour beers can be a bit complex and I thought there was too much of a clash. I was a little surprised too as I thought the sourness would compliment the acidity of the apple sauce.
After this course Paul came back round to speak to us and it was only after he walked to the next table I glanced down to see my glowing phone, in his eye-line, with the words, ‘Waimea sour – smells of arses’ typed on the screen.
I can only apologise.
Peanut butter and chocolate tart with Peerless Red Rocks.
The tart was a masterpiece. My mouth is still watering thinking of this tart. Lovely rich, deep and sticky chocolate on a soft, crumbly pastry with just a gentle aftertaste of peanut butter which made it creamy and complex. I inhaled this tart.
The beer from Peerless is an English strong ale and had lots of toffee notes and sweetness which paired well with the sweetness of the pudding but towards the end I found it difficult to finish the beer. I think I was a little overloaded with sweet!
Cheese and Mad Hatter Barleywine.
By this time, I was a few beers deep as I’d been drinking beers outside the pairing too (curse you Beavertown Bloody ‘ell!) so when a 12% barleywine came out I was already feeling the effects. On top of this I am not, nor have I ever been a fan of cheese so I take the following notes from my phone as written and present them here for the purpose of my journalistic integrity;
‘I hate cheese, it’s no fun. It’s too cheesy, it tastes like feet. I hate cheese. Cheese number 3 has blue bits.’
Erudite raconteurialism from myself there but I think the point comes across well, this wasn’t really the round for me. I’m not a fan of huge ABV beers either, I think they can quickly become unbalanced due to the high alcohol content and the residual sweetness and maybe because it was the last beer of the night I struggled to get to the end of this one.
I would like to give this another try sometime though as it sounded wonderfully complex, 12% ABV, aged in pinot noir barrels with brettanomyces.
And the winner is…
So overall it was a very good night, excellent food and beer on show and it was really cool to hear the brewers talk about their beers and why they thought they would pair well with the course.
I’m still not convinced there’s a whole lot of science to pairing but it’s a fun little exercise and a good excuse for a few beers!
In the end Mad Hatter won with the undeniably excellent ‘Penny Lane Pale’. A beer I’d tried many times before but which really shone. A well deserved victory I thought.