When the executive chef of the US Brewers Association, Adam Dulye, swung past London's Brixton to collaborate with Salon's chef patron Nicholas Balfe on a beer pairing menu, you might not have expected the result to have been a fully vegetarian meal.
The occasion? The European launch of the Brewers Association's new Beer & Food Course. Partnering a pair of US beers with each of the four courses, Dulye and Balfe illustrated how it's not just intense meat flavours that full-flavoured American beers call for when they reach the dining table. Extensive malt mash bills and hop recipes can lend elegance as well as complexity.
'Hops are insanely food friendly. They like to be lifted up,' explained Dulye, while introducing a course of girolles, sweet corn, allspice butter, crystallised orange slices and nasturtiums. Hardywood's Great Return APA perfectly matched the citrus notes in the dish, with the dried orange slice a particularly deft match for the beer.
Earlier on, our pick of appetisers had included an exceptional Kirsch Gose from Victory Brewing. Its endless cherry finish and welcome tartness balanced the intensity of dried tomato on sourdough crisp, while Empire Brewing's Skinny Atlas Light, with its elegant sparkle, won the match with the courgette tempura.
Proceedings at the table began with a marinated beetroot starter, with whipped sheep’s curd, puffed barley and hibiscus. The challenge, Balfe said, was to balance both sour and wheat notes, without being overwhelmed by the richness of the sheep's milk cheese. Our vote went to the light crispness of Great Divide's Nadia Kali Hibiscus Saison.
The one course that might have proved tricky was the main course. ‘We treated celeriac like a meat cheek,’ said Balfe, detailing how it had been slow roasted, smoked and served with a rich jus. This required dark malts and depth in its matching beer - features found in spades in Harpoon’s #57 Sticke Alt, part of Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series, with its layered notes of caramel, toffee, raisins and sultanas.
'I was blown away with the depth and intensity of Deschutes' The Abyss Rye,' said Balfe as he introduced his dessert, a rich olive oil ganache with salted caramel ice cream, hazelnuts and cherries. Balfe and Dulye’s pairing proved an immediate winner, with the elements of sweet, savoury and bitter notes balanced on plate and in glass.
Speaking about the dinner on the whole, Balfe commented: 'If I had the opportunity to do it again, I definitely would not add any meat.'
Also present were brewers from Sierra Nevada and Harpoon Brewing, whose beers are currently in the UK market, and the founders and representatives of Empire Brewing, Port City Brewing, New Holland Brewing and Hardywood Park, currently in discussions with UK distributors.
If you want to delve further, the Beer & Food course materials are free to download.