I’ve been to a few wine pairing dinners, where food is magically matched with wine, but never one for beer.
1600 World Bier Haus (Glenmore Landing, Calgary) has monthly beer dinners and I dragged some colleagues who prefer wine and Coors Lite to come on down and check out some authentic Belgian beers.
Dave Turnbull of Horizon Wines took us on a tour of Belgian brews complete with stories of the history of the country and how it relates to the country’s 130 breweries and more than 800 beers.Belgium has a wild history. With more than 30 regimes controlling the country over the past 1000 years, many influences have been weaved through the brewing process. When the rest of the world went straight, the Belgians went sideways, experimenting with fruit and spices in their beers.
The best beer in the world is often said to be Westvleteren since it’s only available at the Abby. You phone ahead or order online. Drive up a long road to a remote building and pull up to what is, basically, a drive thru window. You give your name and the monk gives you your one case of Westvleteren.
There are only 7 Trappist breweries in the world and 6 of them are in Belgium. The monks must make (or oversee) the brewing process and permission for the Trappist seal can only come from the Vatican.
The first beer on our menu was the Chimay Red Cap, a rich fruity beer that was paired with a bison tartare and saskatoon berries. Dave reminded us that beer should be drank a little warmer than straight from the fridge. Those “cold” beers with the mountains changing colour are made to be like that to disguise the taste of the beer. Having a beer extra cold masks the flavours and when your beer is kinda skunky, encouraging people to drink it cold masks the skunk.
Belgian beers, however, are proud of their deep richness and flavour textures. That’s why each brew has it’s own stemmed goblet, perfect for placing your hands around the bowl to warm a bit before you sip.
Drinking beer is just like drinking wine. You swirl it, smell it, sip it and swoosh it. Layer upon layer of flavour washes over your tongue.
Next on our menu was a cream of mushroom soup paired with a Triple Karmeliet.
The rich carmel tones of the beer weaved through the richness of the soup. It was great, but not my favourite pairing of the night.
Duvel (pron DOO-vuhl) is the champagne of Belgian beers. The signature glass has a little “d” etched in the bottom to swirl the bubbles up through the centre. Hold it up to the light and you can see them climb like it’s a glass of bubble. It’s light and smoothed along nicely with the salmon and almond butter.
Notice the beers have gotten lighter through the meal. Dave reminded us that beer itself is a palate cleanser. With carbonated bubbles in the brew, your tongue is cleaned with each sip. Wine tastings are normally done light body to heavy, beer dinners can be mixed up however you like.
The best pairing of the night came from a St Bernardus Wit and a seared scallop. There’s just something about scallops and pairings with beer and wine that make my tastebuds dance. A nicely seared scallop and oaky chardonnay tastes like butterscotch on my tongue, the St Bernardus Wit wasnt sweet and syrupy like that tasting, but the two were engaged in a lifelong marriage in my mouth. Wow.