Iron Drink….Beer vs. Wine in Glass-to-Glass Combat!
Guest Blogger, Jane A. Nickles
It’s Tuesday night and I’m in the kitchen of Ventana Restaurant at the Texas Culinary Academy. Forty people have assembled for the first ever “Iron Drink” beer vs. wine pairing dinner. Three of the Culinary Academy’s finest chefs have been given full creative license to design five courses of mouth-watering original dishes…all with the goal of “stumping” the pairing prowess of the wine and beer experts at The Texas Culinary Academy. This isn’t just dinner…its wine vs. beer in glass to glass combat!
The familiar cry of “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” is blasted over the sound system and I hear the first few notes of “Rocky’s Theme” blare away. Sarah Murray of the Wine and Food Foundation calls out, “And in this corner…representing wine, Miss Jane Nickles, The Wizard of Wine, and Educator Extraordinaire!” I run out of the kitchen into the dining room to thunderous applause. Sarah continues, “And in this corner…representing beer, Chef Jayson Reynolds, Beloved Chef Instructor and Beer Pairing Prodigy!” Chef Jayson jogs out to join me on the floor. After a round of bantering, boxing, and bragging, we settle down and explain how the evening is to unfold.
As each course was served, the Chefs described the dishes and their creative process in its design. Each dish was paired with one beer and one wine, chosen after much thought by myself for the wine, and Chef Jayson for the beer. After the dish was served, Chef Jayson and I each had two minutes to describe our choices and why we believe the particular beer or wine was the perfect match for the food. After our guests enjoy each course and its liquid accompaniments, they voted for their favorite match-up. Every round had a winner, and at the end of the evening, the total votes were tallied, and the first ever “Iron Drink” champion was named!
Did the wine win or did the beer reign supreme? Read on!
First Course, created by Chef Robert Brady:
Gulf Shrimp Cocktail on Asian Slaw, Edamame Mousse, Toasted Sesame Seed Oil Vinaigrette, Wasabi Emulsion, Cilantro Coulis
Miss Jane’s Wine Pairing: Hugel et Fils Riesling 2007; Alsace, France
I chose this wine for both sentimental reasons (Johnny Hugel, the brilliant 13th generation winemaker just passed away on June 9th at the ripe old age of 84), and the fact that I thought it was a brilliant match! The dish had a salty component due to soy sauce, which was subdued by the wine’s acidity, and the forward lemon-lime-green apple fruit flavors “jumped up and slapped” the spiciness of the dish…meaning the diner could enjoy the spicy flavors, but the wine put a pleasant, definite, and palate-cleansing end to the heat.
Chef Jayson’s Beer Pairing: Kirin Ichiban; Los Angeles, California
This beer is produced in Los Angeles, but the entire process is overseen by Kirin’s resident brew master, who was dispatched from Kirin Japan. This beer showed some very appealing aromas of sweet corn, green grass and citrus. The beer was very clean and refreshing on the palate, and according to Chef Jayson, makes a great, refreshing match for light dishes with a hint of spice. I guess the crowd agreed!
Round #1 Winner: Beer! Score: Beer 1 – Wine 0
Second Course, created by Chef Gary Ackerman:
Summer Chicken Consommé, Brunoise Tomato, Jalapeño Sliver, Chiffonade of Fresh Basil
Miss Jane’s Wine Pairing: Avinyó Cava Brut Rosado; Penedes, Spain
This course was a challenge for me…not only was it is a soup dish (notoriously difficult for wine), but it had an element of jalapeño heat – a tough call for wine. I decided to go with my pairing philosophy of “if you have bubbles, you’ll have no troubles” and chose a very light, very fruity, and yet very dry rosé Cava (Spanish sparkling wine). I described this wine as feeling like “a thousand angels caressing your tongue each with its own cranberry feather.”
Chef Jayson’s Beer Pairing: St. Arnold’s Lawnmower Kolsch Ale; Houston, Texas
This German-Style Texas beer was light with a subtle sweetness and malty body balanced by a complex, citrus hop character. The flavor was exceedingly delicate, which allowed the light flavors of the soup course to shine through. The slight sweetness did a great job of cutting the jalapeño heat, and I knew this pairing was going to be tough to beat!
Round #2 Winner: Beer! Score: Beer 2 – Wine 0
Third Course, created by Chef Gary Ackerman:
Cool Tian of Grilled Eggplant, Squash, Sweet Onion, Tomato Emulsion
Miss Jane’s Wine Pairing: Llano Estacado Winery Signature Mélange; Texas
Ok, the usually calm and collected Miss Jane was shaking in her red boots after her beloved wine pairings lost the first two rounds. However, I knew I had in my pocket the secret weapon – the pride of Lubbock, the grandpa of Texas Wineries, and a wonderful Mediterranean blend of grapes. This wine had just the right acidity to hold up to a cold vegetable dish, and the perfect blend of fruity, earthy, and spicy flavors to mirror the nuances in the dish with aplomb. The crowd loved this wine!
Chef Jayson’s Beer Pairing: Fireman’s Four Pale Ale; Blanco, Texas
This was the Texas vs. Texas round as Chef Jayson also chose to pour a local product. This was a great match; he chose a refreshing blonde ale with a perfect balance between the smoothness of the malt, the subtle fruitiness from the carefully chosen yeast, and zesty citrus notes from Crystal hops. This pairing was light enough to let the flavors of the food shine through, yet still held its own on texture and refreshment.
Round #3 Winner: Wine…Texas Wine at that! Score: Beer 2 – Wine 1
Main Course, created by Chef Robert Brady:
Pan Seared Boneless Duck Breast over Mascarpone Risotto, Pancetta, Pan Roasted Portobello Mushroom, Sautéed Rapini, Oregano Scented Jus
Miss Jane’s Wine Pairing: The Chocolate Block 2007; Franschhoek, South Africa
The Chocolate Block, made by Boukenhouskloof Winery in Franschhoek Valley, is a wine I discovered on holiday in South Africa. In the wine bars and restaurants of Cape Town, this wine is so popular I like to say it doesn’t just have its own religion, it has a cult! A deep, dark blend based on Syrah and Grenache, this is a pairing of the “big and rich meets big and rich and they live happily ever after” variety.
Chef Jayson’s Beer Pairing: 512 Wit by 512 Brewing Company; Austin, Texas
This round had me scared. Chef Jayson appears out of nowhere with these giant beer bottles with cutesy pewter handles and announces the fact that “this beer is brewed locally, only available on special occasions and has not yet been bottled so the brew master hand delivered this just 15 minutes ago!” This is a rare and delicious beer, with zesty, spicy, clove aromas and flavor – it made a great match with the dish.
Round #4 Winner: Wine! Score: Tied at Beer 2 – Wine 2
Dessert, created by Chef Michelle Antonishek:
Sweet Corn Panna Cotta, Blueberry Cornmeal Financier, Candied Lime, Dehydrated Corn, Blueberry-Lime Sorbet
Miss Jane’s Wine Pairing: Marenco Scrapona Moscato d’Asti 2007; Asti (Piedmont), Italy
I was blown away by the creativity of Chef Michelle’s dessert as soon as I read the menu, and I also immediately knew that I would pair a Moscato d’Asti with this dish. I admit that this was my “safe” pairing, being all light-and-sweet paired up with light-and-sweet. What made it a slam-dunk for me, though, was the lime component…Moscato has a wonderful hint of lime that really shines when paired up with a lime dessert, and I hardly ever get a chance to do just that, so I went for it!
Chef Jayson’s Beer Pairing: Maredsous Triple, Belgium
Chef Jayson readily admitted that this was the pairing that stumped him, and I can understand why…most beers are dry and this is a sweet dish. There are some beers with a sweet component, specifically Lambics, but they might have been a bit heavy for this dessert. The beer Jayson chose was a great match…it was light and delicate with some subtle sweetness, and amazingly, had a very distinct aroma of marshmallow!
Round #5 Winner: Wine! Score: Beer 2 – Wine 3
And the Overall Winner is….
At the end of a marvelous dinner accompanied by outstanding wine and beer, everyone in the house is a winner, and yet we still must tally the final votes. The overall votes were tallied, the final score was 78 to 101, but we really had no idea which way it would go, but the winner was…this time….Wine! A true “come from behind” victory and a great showing for beer!
Stay tuned next year…the gauntlet has already been thrown…Chef Jayson requested a re-match and I accepted…he and his beers are worthy competitors indeed.
About Miss Jane
Jane A. Nickles, or “Miss Jane” as her students call her, is a Certified Specialist of Wine and has been the wine educator at the Texas Culinary Academy (www.tca.edu) for over 12 years. Miss Jane is also the author of “WineSpeak 101” (www.winespeak101.com) and is a frequent speaker at wine and food education conferences all over the country. Last February, after winning a head-to-head, “throw down-style” teaching competition at the Food Educator’s Learning Conference in Charleston, Miss Jane was awarded the title of the nation’s “Ultimate Culinary Educator”.