First Course: Fresh Spring Soup paired with Cerveza Especiale
Why it worked: The Cerveza Especiale is the seasonal Vienna Lager brewed each year. Vienna Lager is effectively the Swiss Army knife of beer and food pairings; it works with just about anything. Popular styles include Dos Equis Amber and Negra Modelo. The style features just enough sweetness in the body and a light, effervescent finish accented with a hint of hops. In this situation, the cream in the spring soup (similar in thickness to a potato soup) was sweetened by the caramel malts. The slightly hopped finish of the beer quickly cleared the palate, leaving the mouth renewed and ready for more.
Second Course: Shrimp Bruschetta paired with Catcher in the Rye IPA
Why it worked: Catcher in the Rye is a heavier bodied IPA with lots of citrus and grapefruit hop notes and a very prominent rye spiciness. The Shrimp Bruschetta contained a good dose of basil and appeared to be tossed in oil. The basil was the key player in this pairing, creating a strong herbal, almost minty sensation that prevented the hops from overpowering the palate (which they would do on their own). However, just because the bitterness of the hops was reduced doesn't mean their effectiveness was. The hops worked their cleansing powers and ensured that no oily presence was left on the tongue, creating a very pleasant experience.
Third Course: Balsamic Glazed Salmon paired with Liquid Sunshine
Why it worked: This beer was a bit unexpected, with noticeable orange peel and even a slight lactic tartness in the back. Brewed in the style of a Belgian Wit, this beer took the style in a new and interesting direction. Tart flavors will typically cut right through any other flavors, but in this beer the sensation was both balanced enough and located in the back of the mouth so that the other flavors could shine. Perhaps the most intriguing side effect of this tartness was the ability to heighten both salty and sweet flavors in the glaze. The orange, banana and lemon flavors in the beer all worked very well with the salmon and its glaze. Since orange and lemon are flavors you might expect to find in a salmon glaze or marinade, it is of little surprise that they would also find a welcome home in the beer.
Fourth Course: Chocolate Mousse paired with Subzero
Why it worked: To be quite honest, it didn't. Jerry knew this, he was just looking for an excuse to bring this award-winner back out. The reason it did not work is that the strong caramel flavors, fig and dark fruit notes and spicy Belgian yeast simply overpowered the simple creamy and slightly bitter dark chocolate flavors of the mousse. That said, the sugary dessert did mask any bitterness both in the chocolate and the beer when combined. The Subzero alone is worthy enough to be called dessert and is aging especially well. There is no doubt why this beer is Jerry's most award winning.
Pairing lessons: Hops do an excellent job of cleansing the palate, especially when used in moderation. You want to cleanse the palate, not destroy it. When trying to balance strong hop flavors, bold herbs do an excellent job of cutting through the hops with citrus characteristics. The easiest way to pair food with beer is to imagine the flavors of the beer being ingredients in the food; if it seems natural, then it will probably work. Finally, be careful when pairing sugary flavors. Pay attention to the flavors surrounding the sweetness. The spicy caramel sweetness of a big Belgian is best saved for meats and cheeses, while a chocolate stout is going to go wonderfully with dessert.