When Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch merged, the fear of losing all local recipes at our local Rock Bottoms was a very real one. The 6 main styles at each of the Rock Bottoms in Indianapolis were replaced with 4 corporate recipes. The new beers weren't bad, but much of the adventure in craft beer is the variation of recipe interpretations. Luckily, this Brewer's Dinner pushed aside those fears, and offered up 4 seasonal and one-off recipes. From the long standing Rock Bottom seasonal, Rocktoberfest, to a new recurring seasonal, White Wheat, with a variety of Jerry's creations in between. Starting off the meal with Jerry's Hop Bomb certainly had me in a good mood.
First Course: Pumpkin Flower Empanadas paired with Rocktoberfest
Why It Worked: Rocktoberfest is typically brewed as a malt-forward Vienna Lager, a style well known for its versatility with food. There is no beer style that can be paired with a more diverse selection of food than Vienna Lager. The sweet, caramel malts, the light hop presence and the smooth lager finish make the beer both neutral and complimentary. In this dish, the natural sweetness of the creamed corn sauce lent a familiarity to the sweet malt. While a good dose of salty mozzarella cheese attempted to steal the palate, the crisp body broke it up nicely.
Second Course: Gorgonzola and Pear Salad paired with Pumpkin Ale
Why It Worked: The Pumpkin Ale at the downtown Rock Bottom is traditionally brewed with oats to help keep the body in balance without becoming too heavy. Squash sweetness and spices remain fairly equal. The salad included sliced almonds that had been cooked in cinnamon and sugar, which really brought out exactly what you're looking for in a pumpkin beer pairing - the sensation of pumpkin pie without the richness. The spicy arugula provided a peppery compliment to the clove notes in the beer and the sweetness of the malt and pumpkin mellowed out the pungent Gorgonzola.
Third Course: Turkey Pot Pie paired with Terminal Stout
Why It Worked: This was certainly an adventurous pairing. The Terminal Stout, a big dry-hopped, milk chocolate stout, is not exactly what comes to mind when you think of pot pie. Then again, neither is serving the pie in a kabocha squash (that's a Japanese pumpkin for our squash-illiterate). After the first taste, it was clear that these two were going to play nicely. The dryness on the finish, thanks to the dry-hopping, did its anticipated job of cutting through the rich cream in the broth, but without any of the typical citrus or herbal flavors you would expect to accompany the hops. Just a clean slice through the fat. The broth was heavily spiced with cloves, and when combining a bit of the kobucha in the broth with the beer, the chocolate notes completed the pairing and transformed the dish into a savory chocolate pumpkin pie. Unexpected, yet the flavors built on each other in the way you hope to find within new pairings.
Fourth Course: Apple Cranberry Cobbler paired with Winter Wheat
Why It Worked: At first taste, the Winter Wheat was way more candied orange and way less clove and nutmeg than I expected. Thankfully, the cobbler presented all of the flavors I thought were missing from the beer. Alone, the cobbler may have bordered on having too much cinnamon and mace, but when mixed with a strong wheat ale, they shared the stage and balanced both items out. The orange flavors in the beer with the apples and cranberries created flavors similar to cranberry relish / sauce on Thanksgiving day. I wasn't a huge fan of the beer alone, but the dessert pairing as a whole was a great finish to the meal.
Pairing Lessons: When in doubt, reach for a Vienna Lager. It goes with most anything, provided the food isn't too imbalanced. For pairing a pumpkin beer, remember to think of all aspects of the beer and don't just assume it's pumpkin pie in a bottle. Most pumpkin beers have real pumpkin in them, which means that should always be in mind when selecting a food pairing. The spices, while probably the most prominent thing in the beer, should be balanced through the food, while the pumpkin should be coaxed forward. Dry-hopping atypical beer styles (things that aren't IPAs, Pales, Ambers, etc) can lend the same effects of cutting through fats and other heavy flavors as their hoppy-tasting counterparts, but without the same amount of hop flavor. Chocolate doesn't have to be relegated to dessert, just ask the Sicilians. Sometimes if you feel a flavor is missing in a beer, you can make up for it by providing that flavor through food. Your tongue won't know the difference.