Pairing vegetables with beer is not always an easy matter.
Mad Fox Brewing Company, a brewpub in Falls Church, Virginia, hosted a vegetarian beer dinner in August. All of the five dishes, prepared by the chef Andrew Dixon were good, some superb, as were the five beers, served with the dishes (well 4 out of the 5), brewed by brewmaster and owner Bill Madden. But, while the dinner on the whole was enjoyable, not all of the combinations were ultimately successful.
A brioche roll pounded flat and steamed, then topped with hoisin-glazed portabello mushrooms, crispy fired shitake mushrooms, and cucumbers, and finished with house-made ginger-mayonnaise. On the side, hot chili sauce. You ate it it like a taco: delicious and fun.
Kölsch is a delicate ale, gently fruity, softly hopped, with just-so malt. Mad Fox Kölsch —although a fine, if somewhat sulfury beer (appropriate to the style)— seemed not bad, but not inspired. The mushrooms needed something more earthy as a foil. (The unfiltered, straight from the fermenter version of the beer —Kellerbier Kölsch— received a gold medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival.)
Pairing score: B-
A confit of summer vegetables, wrapped within a thin ribbon of grilled zucchini, finished with a tapenade vinaigrette and toasted pinenuts, and topped with a parmesan tuile.
This multi-layered vegetable dish —and I mean that both in terms of cantilever and flavor— was enhanced by the malty yet 'bitey' ale: a cask-conditioned St. Swithin's E.S.B. Caramel flavor preceeded by an earthy/sweet aroma and succeeded by a dry lingering finish.
Pairing score: A
Goat cheese-filled tamales, with red quinoa salad, guajillo chili salsa, and avocado purée. A diner was over overheard telling Chef Dixon: "I'm a meat-eater, but these tamales are off-the-chart!"
Served with Mad Fox's Witte Vos Wittebier. Brewer Bill Madden told the crowd that the beer was a Belgian-style 'white' beer made with imported German pilsner malt, raw winter red wheat, and flaked oats, and spiced with lemon and orange peels, and toasted coriander.
The wit beer was one of the better I've tasted recently, and it's not a style of beer I'm crazy for. But, flavor-wise, the wit and the tamale had little to do with each other.
Pairing score: C
Battered tofu with braised artichokes, risotto, ricotta, pepperanata, and toasted walnut pesto. The risotto was prepared with a vegetable stock emulsion that was deeply savory: umami-full.
Served with Mad Fox's Orange Whip, Mad Fox's 'India Pale Ale.' Brewed with hard-to-find Citra hops, the beer smells and tastes like orange and grapefruit pith, and finishes with a bracing bite. It's only occasionally brewed, and has reached a cult status in the DC beer scene.
Everything was good with this combo. The beer, the entree, the flavor-pairing between the two. The sauce was stunningly flavorful; the beer proved a worthy companion.
Pairing score: A+
The dessert course for the evening was a Peach Tart Tatin: an upside-down puff pastry with with local Virginia peaches, pistachio cream, wildflower honey ice cream, and oat crumble. Chef Dixon suggested waiting for the ice cream to begin melting to meld all the flavors. Tried it: he was right.
The pastry was served with Mad Fox Krieken Blonde, which, brewer Bill Madden told us, was a Blonde Ale, brewed with Belgian yeast, to which Oregon cherry purée had been added post-fermentaion. but, to me, something was was off-kilter about this beer. Rather than a cherry flavor, I tasted something akin to green-olive.
For a pairing, I think the wit beer would have better here, or, for contrast, a chocolaty dark beer, or even the Orange Whip, with its strong citrusy-orange flavor.
Pairing score: C-
Madden was a gracious, informative host. Chef Dixon would follow his beer presentations with concise descriptions of ingredients, techniques, and flavors. The evening was, in fact, the second vegetarian food/beer dinner that the pub has presented.
Pairing the flavors of food and beer —whether through contrast, like-flavors, flavor hooks, or texture cut— can be evanescently difficult. But, oh, when it all falls into place!
- More photos from the dinner: here.
- VeggieDag is an occasional Thursday post on vegetarian issues. Why the name? Here. Prior VeggieDag Thursday posts: here. Follow on Twitter: #VeggieDag. Logo by Tom Lee, beer columnist for Baltimore Examiner. Suggestions and submissions from chefs and homecooks: welcomed!
- Caveat lector: As a blogger, I was given a reduced price for admission.