16 June 2008

Fancy Snacks with Beer!

We are all aware that twenty dollars does not buy very much, especially at a seafood restaurant. But if you were lucky enough to get a seat for McCormick & Schmicks beer tasting, you soon learned how far a twenty would go. Along with the wonderful pre-dinner appetizers, there were seven (!) different food and beer pairings.


King Salmon with Cumin-Bronzed Tomato Coulis, paired with Brooklyn Brown Ale. McCormick & Schmick's gets off on the right foot with this combination. The Brooklyn Brown has a little more hop bite to it than the typical brown ale. The spiciness of the coulis, when paired with the Brown, reveal the caramel, malt, and chocolate notes of the beer. A well done pairing.

Garlic Herb Grilled Calamari, paired with Bell's Oberon. I've noted before that I'm enamored with the 2008 version of Oberon. It has the perfect mix of spice and sweetness. The pairing of the Oberon with the calamari is good, but not as impressive as the lead-off pairing. The garlic uncovers an aspect of Oberon that I had not noticed before--a touch of butter in the nose. Then again, maybe I am merely getting a whiff of my fingers, which are buttery from the calamari.

Spicy Crawfish Hush Puppies, paired with Barley Island Barfly IPA. It's been awhile since I've had a Barfly. I'd forgotten how good a beer it is, loaded with pineapple and grapefruit goodness. The hush puppies are excellent as well, fried perfectly and covered in a spicy sauce. Unfortunately, the pairing is disappointing. The spice in the sauce and the hop bite of the Barfly cancel each other out.

Shrimp Cocktail, paired with Three Floyds Gumballhead. Just what I've come to expect from Gumballhead--bubblegum, lemon zest, and pineapples in the nose, with beautiful and crisp finish. The pairing with the shrimp is fantastic, with the crispness of the beer mingling well with the brine of the shrimp.

Ahi Tuna and Roasted Red Peppers, paired with Spaten Lager. This is my first sampling of Spaten Lager, and I'm kicking myself for that. A not unpleasant rubbery nose (like an eraser smells) gives way to a light, champagne-like flavor. The tuna is served sashimi style with the red peppers. The tuna is a bit bland, the red peppers sweet. Not an effective pairing with the beer, as the sweetness of the peppers is too similar to the sweetness of the beer.

State Fair Scallops, "Corn Dog" Style, paired with Wabash Valley Hazy Days Wheat. Another first-time beer. The beer has a toasty, bready nose, but is disappointingly weak. The scallops, however, are amazing, served fried in a beer batter. They are tender, buttery, and delicious. The beer, however, is too bland to add anything to the pairing.

Mascerated Berries in Beer and Honey, paired with Duvel. What can you say about Duvel? It's a winner. If this beer weren't such a heavy hitter in terms of ABV, this would be a go to beer for me in the summer. The yeastiness of the beer and the sweetness of the berries pair well.

My favorite pairing of the night: the salmon and the Brooklyn Brown.


We’ve seen beer dinners at brewpubs and beer bars. And local restaurants like L’Explorator and R Bistro have been taking on beer and food pairings. McCormick and Schmick’s, a national seafood chain with a downtown Indianapolis location, was next with an event they called “Fancy Snacks with Beer”. Seven courses of seafood snacks paired with a beer from World Class Beverages.

The first snack was king salmon seasoned with cumin on a spoon with a coulis made with chipotle and tomato. The peppery notes of the food brought out the depth of the Brooklyn Brown, bringing out some of its hidden flavors.

Next course was grilled calamari skewers The head, when is commonly sliced into rings, is sliced flat and skewered. It is grilled with garlic and herbs. It was chewy and peppery with buttery notes that matched up well with the Bell’s Oberon. The Oberon also subdued some of the peppery notes.

Crawfish hush puppies
with a chipotle mayo were passed around. I love hush puppies and these were good. I think they could have used more crawfish. But the mayo was nice. It was matched with a Barley Island Barfly IPA, which I hadn’t had before and must say is really good (we need to visit Barley Island again soon). Independently, the food and beer was good. Together, they were about the same. They didn’t clash, but they didn’t bring out anything in each other either.

A big shrimp swimming in a horseradish and ale cocktail sauce topped with a lemon wedge was a pleasant set of bites. Served in a shot glass, the cocktail sauce was thin, which is contrary to what I’m used to. But the use of ale provided an additional flavor and mellowed out the horseradish. The Three Floyds Gumballhead (which McCormick and Schmick’s has on tap, by the way) matched up with the briny flavors of the shrimp cocktail. The citrus from the lemon was a logical connection to the sweet wheat beer.

My least favorite course was next: ahi tuna wrapped with a roasted red pepper. It didn’t taste bad, but it was underwhelming. Either the pepper overpowered the tuna or this particular piece of tuna was just lacking. I’m thinking the latter. But the light citrus notes of the Spaten beer it was paired up with worked well with the roasted red pepper. I’m thinking of pairing Spaten and shish kabobs.

State Fair Scallops were served next. I’m a huge scallops fan and I find that when restaurants bread and deep fry a scallop, they tend to go cheap, which creates a flavorless and chewy bite. Not so here, as the State Fair Scallops were the highlight of the evening! This scallop on a stick had a crunchy crumb coating and wasn’t overcooked. It was very tender and very tasty. It was served with Dijon mustard. It was paired with a Wabash Valley Hazy Days Wheat, which is a good gateway beer. The beer didn’t get in the way of the food, but the label played into the theme with its picture of a state fair midway (whose state fair? they aren’t telling!).

We finished with berries macerated in beer and honey, paired with Duvel. A no brainer.

This was a nice event that will hopefully occur again, and I recommend it to you all. It is not as thought provoking as the Food and Beer Symposium, but it was still delicious and fun. And at $20, it was an absolute steal!


King Salmon with Brooklyn Brown Ale - This beer began with a pretty hoppy kick to it, but was balanced by the spiciness in the salmon. Quite good, indeed.

Calamari with Bell's Oberon. Something about the Oberon reminded me of bubblegum at first blush. With the calamari, however, the beer took on a more spicy flavor.

Hush Puppies with Barley Island Barfly IPA. I liked them separately, but the spice in both the beer and hush puppy seemed to cancel each other out instead of enhance one another. I think I would have liked to see this paired with the Oberon, where the beer may have enhanced the spice in the hush puppy.

Shrimp Cocktail with Three Floyds Gumballhead. I really enjoyed this pairing. The Gumballhead had a grapefruit and lemon zest essence and it really enhanced the spicy cocktail sauce. The cocktail sauce had a wonderfully intense spice that didn't deaden the palate. I think this was my favorite of the evening.

Ahi Tuna with Spaten Lager. I felt that this pairing somehow missed the mark. The tuna was a beautiful color and tasted great with the pepper, but was bland on its own and with the lager.

Scallops, with Wabash Valley Hazy Days Wheat. The pairing of the scallop and the beer was clean. Neither item overwhelmed the other.

Berries in Beer and Honey with Duvel. This course was a spectacular finish. The Duvel had a sweet and musty Belgian nose and tasted wonderful (of course) with the raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries in the dish.

A great event for an amazing price. I am really glad we had this opportunity to visit McCormick & Schmicks, because without knowing their beer selection, it is likely that I wouldn't have even considered it before. It's really nice to see some of the chain restaurants embracing better beer and trying to learn how to make it work for them. I hope other restaurants in the area see how well this event was received (they were turning people away) and try something themselves.


  1. What was the turnout like at this dinner?

  2. I think they had 40 seats and they were all filled. Except three by us. Probably because I'm scary.

  3. We weren't able to make this one but it looks like it was a pretty good time. If you're looking for an excuse to visit McCormick and Schmick's again, you should check out their happy hour bar menu. We haven't been since we lived downtown, but I'm pretty sure it's in effect from 9:30-close in addition to normal happy hour times and there is a 2 drink minimum.

  4. mmmm...fish and scallop ceviche. Bring it on.