Wine pairings are wonderful, but beer pairings are sometimes best. Not for lack of sophistication or the ability to tempt, tease and tickle the palates of discerning diners, beer pairing is becoming more popular – and why not! The breadth of brews is ever more expansive. Independent microbreweries and ale-centric establishments are abound in the city of Toronto. Plus, beer is freakin’ delicious! Yeah, I said it! And don’t think my brashness is due to overindulgence.
Last week, Indie Alehouse played host to a Kitchen Collaboration between Oliver & Bonacini’s Executive Chef Anthony Walsh and Indie Alehouse Chef and Partner Todd Clarmo. Promising that this is the first of more to come, a five-course feast complete with nine nuanced beer pairings set the stage for the evening.
The beer pairings were chosen to highlight the versatility of natural craft ales alongside craft food, according to the duo. “Some will highlight complex flavour enhancements; others will show a strong but interesting contrast in flavours,” they explained on their menu. With a range of beers from bitter to citrusy, hoppy to sour and just about every hue and heaviness one could have, the Indie Alehouse’s diverse beer list was perfect for such an endeavour.
Wishing that I wasn’t such a far drive from home, I sparingly sampled all of the ales, while attempting to leave no morsel of food unfinished. A light citrusy Couch Surfer IPA and a rich chocolate and coffee flavoured English style Breakfast Porter made with oats started off the sippables. Unfortunately, Toronto traffic rendered us too tardy for the selection of oysters that went along with these aperitifs.
The meal itself started off light and quickly graduated to rich and wholesome. A wild Chinook salmon and sea buckthorn ceviche with rutabaga and rye berry salad brought out complimentary profiles in their pairings. The Tim Bucked Two was a Belgian wit aged with sea buckthorn berries from Quebec and it’s fruity aroma and sweetness from the Belgian yeast made for a more approachable accompaniment than the Spadina Monkey Belgian sour ale.
Ned’s Stash, Flanders Ale was aged for 12 months in a Niagara red wine barrel with bacteria and grape skins. Slightly tart, its big flavours of tobacco, musty wine and stone fruits made for a sublime sip after a bite of turkey gravy pie. More of a flatbread than a pie crust, this warm inviting dish piled with frites, cheese curds, dried haskaps (also knows as blue honeysuckle) and mellow sage could be chased down with the crisp, complex and hoppy bite of their hybrid Barnyard IPA.
On to the main – the no big deal, we’re just going to put everything rich, wonderful and perfectly prepared onto one dish, I wish I could make this at home and maybe could if I tried really hard, this is heart-stoppingly insanely delicious main course. Take another sip of your bitter and citrusy Instigator IPA, conditioned in an oak barrel made in Prince Edward County and then listen here. Roasted pork belly with a candy-like top skin, cotechino (soft Italian salami) and beans, charred chicories, broccoli rabe, bread stuffed with mustard green hummus, and a brussels sprout gratin with thunder oak gouda for the ages. The wine tinctured, malt-flavoured, complex Glory and Consequences Belgian Dubble strong ale aged for 13 months in Niagara sparkling wine barrels did the trick to knock this pairing out of the park.
Then, of course, there was aged cheese, bagel crisps, pecans, apricot preserves, and mignardise to go along with the TnA nutbrown ale. The final beer was one of the most interesting – an ode to the host duo of the evening – inspired by Chef Walsh and named after Todd and Anthony. This smooth, fragrant ale starts off sweet from haskap berries and fades into a dry, chocolaty finish from the use of hazelnuts and chestnuts.
From the first invigorating sip of Couch Surfer IPA to the last mellow, soothing swig of TnA, this team made a case for more Kitchen Collaborations to come. Next time I’m leaving the car at home.