Going the Extra Mile for the Perfect Pairing
June 15, 2017
At our beer dinners, we like to encourage guests to explore the ever-evolving boundaries of beer. From the novice to the beer geek, to the Brewmaster to the Chef, our dinners provide an outlet for collaboration and experimentation, allowing us to not only highlight our culinary talent but to ensure that beer finds its proper place in the kitchen and at the table.
We followed Jen Tamse, our Beer Czar, as she travelled to the Niagara region to personally sip on the beer from the Breweries hand-selected by Chef Professor Michael Olson for the Master Sessions with Michael Olson beer dinner on June 27th. To us, it is important to review each brewery’s beer portfolio. This is a key ingredient for curating the perfect pairings for Chef Michael Olson and Chef Todd Clarmo's food!
With the menu in hand, tasting notes, and a drive to hit up each and every brewery, we set out to accomplish what only few could: put together a list of perfect beer pairings for the dinner and make a few beer friends in the process.
1st Stop: Niagara College Teaching Brewery
The Niagara College Teaching Brewery, or NCT Brewery, is a practical learning environment for students in Niagara College’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program. We got a chance to catch up with Professor Jon Downing, Head Brewmaster at the Brewery, who has been working diligently to produce a new brew/collab for the Master Sessions on the 27th!
Upon arrival, we were told that we had just missed Chef Professor Michael Olson who also works at Niagara College! Brewmaster Jon Downing and Chef have been collaborating on a 150th Anniversary Collab specifically for the dinner. This beer is best described as an American Pale Ale brewed with all local ingredients - including Ontario sourced Barley, and hops from the Carolinian Hop yards near Simcoe. The yeast is even local! This beer will be paired with the 2nd course, Roasted Spring Chicken.
Each tank houses a new student project, which goes to show how much the program has flourished over the past decade! With up to three intakes of students per year, this growing program not only illustrates that people are excited about beer, but that the booming Ontario Craft Beer industry is here to stay. These students will be the future brewers, movers and makers of the industry, and we are excited to witness how they will continue to work to evolve and change the face of Ontario Craft Brewing as we know it.
(Jen Tamse, Brian Yeo [Licensee Sales Rep (NCT Brewery) + MASTERMIND behind Garage D’Or Ciders], Mike Wayne [Refined Fool's Brewmaster], and Jonathan Downing [Head Brewmaster Professor (NCT Brewery])
Jen was in Humulus lupulus heaven! For those of you not as beer nerdy as Jen, Humulus lupulus is the Latin word for hops. The selection of hop varietals these students have on hand was truly impressive.
While we were there, we also had the privilege of meeting Curt Bentley, Brewer of High Road Brewery (Contract Brewing out of NCT Brewery), and Brad Barta, Brewer of Wooden Horse Brewing (Contract Brewing out of NCT Brewery). Both outstanding minds, these guys are doing creative things with beer – be sure to check them out! Top favs included High Road’s Bronan IPA and Wooden Horse’s Saison Kombucha Sour.
Second Stop: Niagara Oast House Brewers
As one of Canada’s original producers of traditional-style Farmhouse Ales, Oast House Brewers draws their inspiration from the Niagara winemaking tradition of crafting a truly unique product that derives both its character and distinction from the land.
We were looking forward to sampling the beers from Oast House Brewmaster Mike Pentesco. In the Shed, Sale Account Manager Keddi-Anne Sherbino pulled out a lot of great samples for us to try – it made the decision very difficult as Jen went back and forth on a few brews!
For the Michael Olson Event, we have also chosen a large format bottle from each brewery that will be sold separately at the dinner for guests looking to try some of the more experimental beers from each brewery’s portfolio. On the list: Oast House XX Ravine Vineyard’s VERJUS SOUR – an American Wild Ale made using verjus, a tart and acidic juice produced from the pressing of underripe grapes – fitting for wine country.
We ended up choosing the Sunday's Best Belgian Wit to pair with the 1st course Vitello Tonnato, with local endives. This dish was by far the most difficult to pair, but Jen was excited about the effervescent nature of the Sunday’s best which will hopefully work to scrub the palate and cut through the fat in the dish. The beer also had a pleasant sweetness and mixture of honey, vanilla, chamomile, citrus and coriander, which will play beautifully with the rhubarb hollandaise. With a spicy finish and refreshing citrus character, the beer is delicate, yet bold enough to pair with a Tonnato.
After making the selection, Keddi-Anne gave Beertown the main tour and showed us around the iconic Red Barn. Back in the brewery, Jesse, Assistant Brewer chatted beer with Jen and allowed her to take a peek inside the freshly cleaned Mash / Lauter Turn. For those of you who don’t know, a Mash Lauter Turn is used to soak grains in hot water in order to extract the sugars from the malt and make them readily available for the yeast to consume later in the brewing process!
Third Stop: The Exchange Brewery
Exchange Brewery is a new premium brewery located in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Old Town heritage district. In 2017, they took home Canadian Brewery of the year at the 6th Annual NYIBC in New York! Although the town is known as the heart of Ontario’s wine country, it is also the scene of a burgeoning craft-brewing industry. With brewing and agricultural roots that stretch back to the late 1700s, Niagara-on-the-Lake is the perfect home for The Exchange’s approach to brewing, which blends traditional and modern techniques with state-of-the-art equipment.
Nick Venneri, the Sales Manager, took us up to their tasting space and poured us all the available beers. From crisp, clean Pilsners to juicy India Pale Ales to peppery Brett Saisons and insanely aromatic Kettle Sours, we firmly believe that there is a beer for every dish. Needless to say, we were excited to try Exchange’s extensive portfolio!
After a good time was spent talking about the future of craft in Ontario, and the evolution of Exchange’s barrel-aged offerings, Jen chose their Dubbel for the arrival beer (which has been aged in French oak barrels). It will pair well with the fresh smoked pork belly with hot + sweet sauces!
Nick then swept us away to check out their modernized facilities and chat equipment. It was a great contrast of old and new practices – let's just say we were very excited to get the exclusive backstage tour!
Check out Exchange's awesome foeders. These big beauties house barrel-aged beers, and while they were traditionally used to age wine, Brewers like Sam Maxbauer of The Exchange have acquired and re-appropriated them to age their beers for longer periods of time and in greater volume.
Forth + Final Stop: Bench Brewing Co.
Still, under construction, Bench Brewing Co. has been contract-brewing out of Brunswick Bierworks in Toronto. Their new facilities are located outside of Lincoln, ON and are a sight to be seen! They have claimed an old school for their bottle shop and are building a two part processing facility, not to mention they have a large hop yard out back! Such a cool location, we cannot wait for it to fully open later this year. Jen had bought a Bench Ball's Falls Session IPA can in honour of the voyage!
The Final pairing is Bench's Clean Slate Brett Saison that will pair with the 3rd Course, Eton Mess +
Hop Bines need 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day, making the Niagara Region ideal for growth. They can grow up to 20 feet, hence why Bench’s trellises are so tall. We are excited to see what this hop yard looks like 6 years from now!
We had a blast on our tour of the Niagara Region. All the breweries showed us generous hospitality, we made some great new beer friends and tasted impressive beers that definitely highlighted what the region had to offer. We look forward to seeing you on June 27th for the Master Sessions with Michael Olson! The night will be the perfect pairing of amazing craft beer and incredible food prepared by Chef Professor Michael Olson and Chef Todd Clarmo, with the help from the rest of the Beertown culinary team.
See you there!
Main Contributors: Jen Tamse + Evin Lachance