Thursday, February 27, 2014

My Favorite Rhizome - Beer Pairing

Beer Pairing Flavors:
Spicy, freshly chopped ginger, whose heat is sweetened with sugar, and then softened in foaming, melted butter, before being wrapped up in a puffy, soufflé like creation of flour, eggs, milk and cream.

Want the recipe?
Click the following link to take you back to the Sweet Ginger Puffcake.

Want the wine pair?
The post, My Favorite Rhizome – Wine Pairing, will take you there.

Want the beer pair?
You've come to the right place.


Now, here’s a challenge.
What could go with sugary, buttery ginger?
I walked into the shop and it was filled with rows of craft beers with fun and quirky labels.

In the middle of a row of seductive women, a colorful pink pig caught my eye.

"A pear cider perhaps?"  Jay, the manager of 55 Degree Wine, suggested, lifting up a bottle at the other end of the shop.  It sounded good, but glancing around at the kaleidoscope of flavors, I thought I'd really like to try something more adventurous.

 “Fine,” he said, as he picked up a nearby rhubarb cider.   “How about this?”
That would go great with a pie I’d made, but not the best partner for buttery ginger.

Moving to the other side of the shop, he continued scanning the labels, reaching for several bottles, but then withdrawing his hand.  And then he paused, clutching a short, dark bottle in his grasp.

“How about a chocolate stout?” he asked.  My mouth began to fill with the taste of a bittersweet chocolate walnut tart I’d made, but sugar and ginger just wasn’t a good fit.

Sensing my hesitation, he continued down the aisle, searching the shelves for my seemingly elusive elixir.  And then, his eyes lit up and he turned, bottle in hand.

"It's called ‘Jule Maelk’ and it's a Milk Stout, which is a Stout that is slightly sweeter and creamier.”

My mind whirred, trying to imagine a creamy, mouth-filling roasted bitterness and how that would harmonize with butter, sugar and ginger.  I was later to discover that they didn't mean "milk-like," by putting "milk" in the title.  For, in the early half of the 20th century, British brewers actually began adding milk during the fermentation of their strong stout beers and sold them as tonics to nursing mothers.  So it seems you’d be mistaken if you thought it was only the baby that could give you a kick!

And as if to drive the point home, one brewery's advertisement even went so far as to feature a manly barrel of beer warmly snuggling up to a cooing churn of milk.  Ah, the good old days.  But after World War II, it seems the party was over, as the British government lowered the boom by banning brewers from hyping milk stouts’ healthful benefits to anyone, and most especially to nursing mothers.

This milk thing was intriguing, but the bitter chocolate part of the equation still wouldn't work.  And then it hit me.  “Caramel.  In fact, toasty caramel,” I answered. 

His eyes darted around the shop, before fixing upon a distant shelf.

Like a bullet, he whistled quickly down the aisle, with me in pursuit, barely trailing behind.  Stopping on a dime, he reached up suddenly and pulled down a large, dark brown bottle with a muscular neck.

Who could this stranger be?  "Maredsous Brune,” the quiet and reserved parchment colored label read.

He was tall, dark and handsome with an elegant cork hat that was affixed to the bottle with a wire cage, just like champagne.  It seems even opening it would be entertaining and I could already hear it popping.  But what would it taste like?  Probably foamy and dark but, would it play nicely with ginger?  If it had a note of bitterness, it would take my dish from light brunch to savory lunch.

My "I'll take it" was followed by his smallest sigh of relief.  And once I got it home, chilled it and popped the cork, it was all that I imagined and then a little bit more. 

An attractive red-hued amber in color with a creamy head, the Maredsous Brune ale (“brune” meaning “brown” in French) has a silky smooth mouth feel that's both mouth-filling and refreshing.  With aromas and flavors of toasty caramel, this Abbey style ale finishes with a slight note of smoky bitterness.

Produced under license from the Benedictine monks of the Belgian Abbey of Maredsous, located in the Belgian Ardennes, the ale is still brewed today based upon Father Atout’s original recipe from over 100 years ago.  I also learned that this fairly potent ale (at 8% alcohol) was originally only brewed at Christmas time, so it's nice that they changed their minds, allowing us to celebrate all year.

The style of the Maredsous Brune, also known as a Dubble, is one of the traditional beer styles brewed in the abbeys of Belgium and Central Europe.  Dark, rich and malty, and twice as strong as the abbeys’ other offerings, enjoying more than a few could result in Dubble trouble.

The ale is also “bottle conditioned,” meaning yeast left in the beer allows it to undergo natural re-fermentation in the bottle, and as a result, the beer continues to mature (until you pop the cork, of course).  But once you have, it's gotten all the maturity it ever will, so it's best to enjoy the moment and drink up quickly.

But, getting back to our Sweet Ginger Puffcake recipe, the caramel in the brown ale is a great flavor match to the buttery sautéed sugar and fresh ginger that’s laced throughout the puffcake.  And the slight note of bitterness in the beer’s finish beautifully balances out the sweet dusting of confectioners' sugar served atop each slice.

To further enhance that matchup between beer and dish, you could slightly brown the butter in the skillet before adding the sugar and ginger.  And the resulting toasty flavor of browned butter would create a flavor bridge between the butter and the toasted caramel flavors found in the beer.

So, how do our two pairings measure up against eachother?

The 2012 Tintero Moscato d’Asti wine pair, with its tangy, sweet-tart fruit and bubbly effervescence, emphasizes the sweetness and fruitiness of the puffcake, making it a lighter, breakfast-brunch type offering, while the Maredsous Brune, with its rich, mouth-filling flavors, stresses the darker, richer tones of the recipe’s sautéed butter and sugar.  And the brown ale’s deep caramel flavor is also a great counterbalance to the ginger. 

However, the beer's ability to focus the dish on these heavier, more savory flavors, even does more.  It actually changes its very nature, making it much more substantial, and moving it from a light breakfast-brunch offering to lunch or even a mid-afternoon meal.  So, in the end, after all the tasting is done, it all comes down to one simple question.

Which flavors do you want to savor?

Here's a peek at what's coming up next  – 

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