Wednesday, June 29th marked the first ever Beer and Food Pairing Dinner held by the Primetime Brewers, a home brewing association based in Grand Rapids. Hosted in the beautiful Rockford Community Cabin, the group of avid beer and cider brewers came up with 20 dishes designed explicitly to showcase beer brewed by the same people making the food.
Who got the privilege of judging the winners? We did! It was no easy decision, either. The Primetime Brewers know their food as well as they know their beer; the gamut ran from rich and hearty pork, venison, and cheese sausage served with smoked potatoes to the original and delightful IPA spring rolls served with mint. There was even a good representation of desserts, with two different ice creams made with beer, a cake, cookies, and even a cheesecake.
When all the tasting was said and done, however, here were three that stood out among all the choices, bringing together a great balance between flavor, creativity, presentation, and beer/food compatbility.
Third Place: Troy Hammond, Drunken Asparagus Spears
Troy's drunken asparagus spears took the judges' hearts away; blanching the asparagus spears in the home brewed American Amber lightened and sweetened the bitter quality asparagus has naturally and lent an excellent balance to the salty feta and smooth prosciutto. It was a perfect summer appetizer.
Second Place: Brandon Roberts, Belgian Beer Ice Cream
Michigan Beer Blog has made beer ice cream before, so it was with astonishment that we tasted this absolutely delicious creation. Brandon took his powerful Belgian strong dark ale (brewed with cardamom and grains of paradise, which spiced up and lightened the otherwise heavy beer) and turned it into ice cream, which made for an extremely smooth, silky flavor that played with the vanilla base he used. The real win here was the pairing; serving the belgian ice cream with the beer from whence it originated made for a surprising and delicious taste; I've made plenty of “beer floats” in my life, but these two combinations beat out any chocolate stout / vanilla ice cream combination I've ever tried. Kudos to Brandon for such originality and thoughtfulness.
First Place: Paul Bierlien, Stilton Blue Cheesecake
Fair warning: I don't like cheesecake. It's typically oppressively sweet, heavy, and unbalanced, with nothing to cut through cloying film that develops in the mouth. Even the fruit toppings people use are usually a heavy, sweet glaze that just weighs down a dish already too heavy to enjoy.
Paul's cheesecake, however, was different. Using Stilton blue cheese (which hails from England), the dessert was more savory than it was sweet. Instead of a heavy dessert, this cheesecake had plenty of tang to balance out the light sweetness hovering around the edges of each bite.
And like Brandon's ice cream, this dessert truly shines when paired with a deep, rich barleywine that brought out and added to the flavors in the cheesecake. Aged on cedar, the barleywine added a little more sweetness to the flavor without covering up the aggressive blue cheese flavor. It added a subtle woodiness, complementing the cheesecake without overpowering it. While the blue cheesecake and barleywine combination is a traditional dish and thus perhaps not quite as original as others, the execution more than made up for it.
|The winners from left: Paul Bierlien, Brandon Roberts, and Troy Hammond|
Congratulations to all of the contestants at the Primetime Brewers First Annual Food and Beer Pairing dinner. All of the entries were fantastic and we truly had a difficult time picking winners of such a competitive bunch. Keep doing what you're doing; the Michigan homebrew market is clearly a healthy, diverse, and exciting place to be! Special thanks to Eric Fouch, President of the Primetime Brewers, for planning this event. Keep Brewing!