In case you weren't already aware, the Fall 2009 Rock Bottom brewer's dinner included the Harvest Mild that I brewed at Rock Bottom with the assistance of head brewer Jerry Sutherlin. The dinner itself featured squash in 3 of its 4 courses, which while delicious, limits the pairing possibilities. Here's a rundown of how they managed to pair 4 fairly different beers with one family of vegetables.
First Course: Sweet Potato Amaretto Crepes paired with Pumpkin Ale
Why it worked: The pumpkin ale at the downtown Rock Bottom is a hybrid of squash flavors and pumpkin pie spice. This year, Jerry added oats to the pumpkin ale to help increase the body and they came through thanks to the sweet, yet bready crepes and created a more dry finish in the beer. The pumpkin in the beer became even sweeter when matched with the similar sweet potato.
Second Course: Fall Harvest Soup paired with Harvest Mild
Why it worked: The dark mild ale features a lot of roasted flavors such as chocolate and coffee, as well as a fair amount of malty sweetness. The soup was created with a variety of root vegetables and had a prominent dose of black pepper, which was drawn out by the beer. The sweet, malty body of the beer drew special attention to the sweetness of the squash in the dish.
Third Course: Stuffed Lamb Chops paired with Vienna Lager
Why it worked: Vienna lager is the Swiss army knife of pairing beers. Sweet caramel malts and a light hopped character help this beer work in most situations. With the lamb, the slightly heavy body on the beer helped bulk up the tender lamb and the sweetness in the meat drew out caramel and brown sugar in the beer. The cherry glaze matched the sweet malts excellently.
Fourth Course: Maple Pumpkin Cannoli paired with Blitzen Winter White Ale
Why it worked: This course featured the most complex beer of the night, which was coincidentally my favorite. Orange, lemon, coriander, honey citrus hops and a hint of anise were all notable components in the beer that created a sweet, almost tropical pumpkin experience. The higher alcohol and much heavier body of the beer was a nice match for the rich, fried exterior of the cannoli.
Pairing lessons: Higher gravity beers are needed to stand up to richer dishes; malty beers are good at accentuating sweetness; if a beer contains a special ingredient, such as pumpkin, it will easily pair with similar ingredients.