Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Beer pairing 2 and NJ Winery laws

January has been quite busy already, and we barely started the month!

First some interesting news: yesterday, the NJ Legislature adopted a bill (S3172-A4436) that will allow wineries in New Jersey to directly ship their wines throughout the state. For small and upcoming wineries, this opens the doors for growth, being able to sell directly to consumers. The bill offers small vineyards the possibility to buy a shipping license, allowing them to sell directly to consumers and make up to 250,000 gallons of wine per year. A previous attempt to pass such law would give that ability only to NJ vineyards but was struck down as unconstitutional, which threatened to force closure of the tasting rooms in NJ wineries. These tasting rooms were the main source of income for many small vineyards who did not produce enough to meet wholesale distribution deals, so failure to adopt this bill would have dealt a fatal blow to many small and new vineyards in NJ, such as Beneduce Vineyards, a new vineyard in Pittstown, NJ that is operated by Justen Hiles, a great friend, and her husband and brother.
The main argument opponents of this bill wielded, was the notion that it would cost jobs to retail sellers and distributors. This was clearly a scare tactic by distribution and retail lobbies, as direct shipping and online sales only make up 1% of total sales. It is also very short sighted: allowing these vineyards to do this, and establish themselves, will bring more and more people in contact with their wines and increase interest in NJ wines, something that will consequently spill over to the retail stores as well. They will remain the one spot to go to, in order find a nice and large selection. Most people only go directly to the source if the local stores do not offer a particular wine (or beer) in their selection.

Same for beer: allowing breweries to have a tasting room with a functional bar would not in the slightest hurt bars and pubs. On the contrary: it would help create a healthy beer culture and awareness from which those bars and pubs would profit as well, both because of increased interest with consumers, and because of having healthier and stronger breweries around. Next on my wish list: a bill that would allow breweries to have a bona fide tasting room, allowing to sell their beer normally. An internal bar, where you can buy a full pint of beer, not just four 4 ounce samples, and were you can buy more than just 2 six packs of the brewery's beer. Where you can perhaps enjoy a limited selection of food or snacks, so the visitor to the brewery can experience a more full savoring of what the beers have to offer.

In a previous article I wrote about beer pairings, with a great quote from Greg Engert who wrote about this in his blog "What Wine Can Teach Us About Beer And Food" (Blogged on YoungAndHungry, Washington City Paper, August 10, 2010). I love this quote so much because it gives such better understanding, that I gladly repeat it here again. And it follows nicely after writing about wineries, doesn't it? Greg said:
And in truth, wine does taste wonderfully with many dishes, as does beer; they just tend to do different things when tasted in congress with food. One general idea I subscribe to is that beer tends to complement the flavors of food, while wine tends to contrast. This is born out by the processes involved in the creation of either beverage. The malts employed in brewing have been "cooked," resulting in flavors one will find in cooked food: roasted, caramelized, toasted, grilled. And beer is seasoned with hops, but often also orange peel, coriander, ginger, chocolate, etc. This allows for beer to echo the flavors found in foods also cooked and seasoned. I will admit that this sort of commonality makes beer and food pairing a bit more approachable, but it is different than what wine can do with food (and not necessarily better).

Wine can complement from time to time, but I prefer the interaction of contrasting flavors when wine confronts a dish. Wine does not have the cooked malt effect or the seasoning aspect of beer, but demonstrates a host of fermentation aromas and tastes resulting from its production. I think it is helpful to look at wine as a sort of additional saucing for the dish, and one that tends to transform the dish’s (and wine’s) flavors; beer and food have more of a tendency to mutually accentuate the similarities of aroma and taste found therein. 
Just the other day I came across another pairing that offered a divinely perfect pairing, where the beer completed the food in such a way you'd think they were dancing on your tongue. So, what was that pairing, you now ask. Westmalle Tripel and honey drizzled speculaas ice cream.
Westmalle Tripel is a classic in his own right, the gold standard for tripel ales. Brewed by the monks at the Abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Westmalle, Belgium, it is a full rich malty Trappist beer. The monks themselves describe is as follows:
Westmalle Tripel is a clear, golden yellow Trappist beer that undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle (9,5% alcohol). It is a complex beer with a fruity aroma and a nice nuanced hop scent. It is soft and creamy in the mouth, with a bitter touch carried by the fruity aroma. An exceptional beer, with a great deal of finesse and elegance. And with a splendid long aftertaste.

 It so happened that a friend came over to visit, and stayed for dinner. After a great meal, it felt a nice dessert would top of the evening just perfectly, so I prepared a simple ice cream coupe I had come up with a while ago. It uses finely crumbled speculaas, a Belgian gingerbread like cookie traditionally made for the feast of Saint Nicolas on December 6th. These fine crumbs and a dash of roasted cinnamon powder are then mixed under vanilla ice cream, and the still frozen ice is then scooped on plates in small balls, topped of with a drizzle of preferably wild honey. I served this to my guest table, and opened a large bottle of Westmalle Tripel. Being the first time I paired that specific dessert with a beer, I had a hunch it would be good, but I was not prepared for the perfection of the pairing. The maltiness, slight bitterness and a hint of vanilla in the Westmalle complemented perfectly with the spiced cookie ice and the rich sweetness of the honey. Definitely recommended to try to make this yourself so you too can enjoy this delicious pairing!

Traditional 'Sinterklaas Speculoos'


  1. I recently found myself fortunate enough to share an evening of beer exploration with none other than Wim of Saint William Brewery. To cap off an evening that included comparing a fresh and 6 year old Unibroue La Fin Du Monde we enjoyed the Westmalle and ice cream dessert described above.

    To say this treat is well balanced is an understatement. It seems as though almost each aspect of this combination was designed to play off of each other. Let's take a closer look. The speculoos' rich ginger, cinnamon, and clove spiciness reflect the crisp Belgian yeast spice notes, both undercut by the smooth vanilla ice cream. The honey joins with the floral, citrus, banana esters to shine atop the already complex base of tastes. In addition to these flavor pairings is a textural pairing that is nearly as important. The frothy head on the abrasively carbonated brew challenges the smooth cream and crunchy bits of cookie. (note: Wim suggested to make sure to make this dish fresh each time you have it so that the speculoos does not lose it's crunch.)

    Now, if you take all of these aspects - you are bound to have a sweet and boozy dessert like no other. Or you could stop all of the over assessment and just simply concede that this is a delicious way to end any evening.


  2. Uitleggen, uitleggen ...
    Ondertussen doe je 't wel natuurlijk !
    maar dienen uitleg, jongens jongens, gewoon om dorst van te krijgen !