I love it when restaurants offer wine pairings or flights with meals. I almost always put the extra money in and usually find a bottle or two that I wouldn't mind having in my own collection. But lately I've been wondering why Ottawa restaurants haven't embraced the craft beer boom and started offering beer pairings with meals. Thanks to the versatility of malts and variety of hops, craft beer can have so many nuances of flavour that it can be easier to pair with food than wine.
I'm not the only one who holds this opinion; Spearhead Brewing Co. owner, Dimitri van Kampen, believes so much in beer that he challenged Lifford Wine agent, Andrew Rasta, to a duel. There were no swords, pistols or white gloves involved, just three courses expertly prepared by Chef Michael Farber at his restaurant, Farb's Kitchen, and both a beer and wine pairing.
What followed was an evening full of light hearted trash talk, beautiful food and palate challenging pairings. Here is a run down of the courses, wine, beer and who won the duel.
Before caps are pried open and corks are unscrewed, our stomachs and palates were primed with an amuse bouche of beef tartar on a ruffled potato chip paired with Farb's version of a Dark and Stormy (Sailor Jerry rum and ginger beer).
FIRST COURSE: Trio of cured salmon, scallop ceviche and beet salad.
WINE: Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc; Domaine De Nalys, France
BEER: Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale; Toronto, ON
MY VOTE: Wine.
WINNER: Wine. While I adore the Hawaiian Style Pale Ale the bitter grassy hops were just too overpowering for the subtle flavours of the seafood. The Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc seemed to caress and compliment the delicate main ingredients - it really heightened the dish.
SECOND COURSE: Lamb shank with Israeli cous cous.
WINE: Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir; Mornington Peninsula, Australia
BEER: Spearhead Moroccan Brown Ale; Toronto, ON
MY VOTE: Beer.
WINNER: Wine. Yes, the pinot noir is a fantastic wine but this is a course that is ideal for the Moroccan Brown. Brewed with dates, figs, raisin and cinnamon the dried fruit flavour of this beer highlights the sweetness of the spices on the lamb without being overwhelming. I was a little disappointed that wine won this round.
THIRD COURSE: Apple pastry with raspberry jam.
WINE: Hinterland Wine Co., Ancestral; Prince Edward County, ON
BEER: Southern Tier, Choklat; Lakewood, NY
MY VOTE: Wine.
WINNER: Wine. Wow, Ancestral blew me away! This beautiful sparkling wine is crisp with flavours of raspberry and strawberry that both complimented the dessert and refreshed the palate. The Choklat, a heavy imperial stout, tasted too clunky in comparison and would have been better suited for something chocolate.
Wine may have gotten the best of beer this time but I don't think it was necessarily a fair fight. Next time there's a duel I want to see beer pull out all the stops and match the best beer possible to pair, not just what the brewery is promoting. That being said, Spearhead is one of my favourite Ontario brews and it was wonderful to have this opportunity to enjoy them with Dimitri.
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