Monday, May 19, 2014

Recap of 2014 World Expo of Beer: Beer Dinner

Written by  Angela Steil
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The 2014 World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth, Michigan was a hodge-podge of sixty seven breweries and beer fanatics clamoring to support the international beer community. Amidst the bustle of swag shops, popping corks and clinking glassware, I was able to experience a well curated beer dinner with my parents and about thirty other curious imbibers.
Jason Wellnitz , the Executive Chef of the Bavarian Inn Lodge, planned a thoughtful meal for us devoted beer fans that evening. There was no underlying theme, but the dishes themselves embodied a heartier disposition. Despite the good nature of the crowd and the tasty beverages and food, I was stunned most of all by the amount of education that was brought to the table for us diners via our host and presenter, Rex Halfpenny. Rex, it seems, has a very particular philosophy about beer: Beer education is not a route to elitism. Rather, it shows us a path to open-mindedness and critical thinking so we can better support our beer industry as a whole.

In between the various courses and Rex’s tidbits of beer information, brewers and representatives came up to speak about their beer (or mead) and discuss the process and answer any questions from the audience. As these presenters were schooling us, I was scribbling down my own thoughts about the pairings, which you will find below.

Pairing Number One:

B-Nektar’s Zombie Killer (This is actually a mead) with a Cherry Pecan Salad consisting of “Baby spinach mixed with swiss cheese, dried cherries, pecans, tossed in a sweet oil and vinegar dressing with a cherry balsamic reduction”

I found this pairing to be a match made in heaven. The crunchy, granola-like quality of the pecans in the salad clung to the sweetness of the mead. I was reminded of eating a parfait in the morning. The obvious tart cherry qualities were apparent in both the mead and salad. This resonance was unbelievable. It was such a shock of flavor, and yet it still allowed for the textures of the dish to shine through and become a part of the composition. Together, the mead and food found an overall harmony of sweet grain, tart cherry, and browned apple. On a less obvious, but intriguing note, the acetic character of the vinegar dressing cut up the dish so it wasn’t completely sweet and tart. I was deeply impressed with this pairing as a whole.

Pairing Number Two:

Kuhnhenn Double Rice IPA with a Traditional Chili consisting of “Beer stew meat sautéed with onions and eight different types of peppers, simmered for four hours in a broth of beer, tomatoes, and beer. Served with shredded cheese, green onions, and sour cream.”

This hearty chili was packed full of flavor. It ended with a bite of capsaicin heat which was perfect for introducing the aromatic and herbal hops in the DRIPA. What was interesting is that after I took a bite of chili and drank a sip of the beer, the brew broke down and featured each characteristic of the dish until the last swallow. I was left with a brief bitter hop finish and strong flavors of meat and salt. As far as cutting power goes, I wouldn’t have chosen this particular beer for the job. However, I enjoyed the fact that it played more with contrast rather than cutting power or resonance. It emphasized my food and then faded into the background so that the food itself could be the main attraction.

Pairing Number Three:

Arcadia Thunder Trail ESB with Barbecue Brisket Sliders which consisted of “Slow cooked beer brisket served on cheddar garlic biscuits with a sweet and spicy Kentucky barbecue sauce”

A creamy mouthfeel from the ESB softened the blow of this umami packed entree. A good deal of resonance was present between the brisket and beer. The bread from the slider and the savory meat attached themselves to the English malt, creating a comforting nod to traditional home cooked meals. I want to mention though that perhaps the beer could have been of a stronger variety in order to pair better with these sliders. The sweet and robust character of the barbecue may have wiped out some of the more subtle nuances of the brew. Perhaps a Doppelbock or American Brown Ale for next time? Either way, the beer and food separately were a delight.

Pairing Number Four:

Tri-City Dragonslayer Imperial Stout aged in Valentine Whiskey barrels with Sea Salt Caramel Ice Cream.

This was a fascinating pairing. A bold one. The dessert was incredibly salty and the beer quite boozy, though certainly not undesirable on its own. What I did learn though is that salt and alcohol warmth can play a fun game together if used in the right setting. This wasn’t my favorite pairing out of the bunch, but wow did it give me something to think about. I will say that the milk chocolate background in the brew did appease the attack of salt from the ice cream, and the dairy from this ice cream also mellowed out the boozy finish of the beer. This was a true adventure for the palate and I admire the person who dove right in to take a chance. Besides, isn’t that what food and beer pairing is about? Trying new things and taking risks is the best way to get one step closer to that beautiful “Ah-ha!” taste sensation moment while dining.

Angela Steil

Angela Steil

Angela Steil is a Certified Cicerone® who returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan after spending three years studying in New York City and Los Angeles. Engaged as a writer in the beer world, Angela is an educator for those who wish to know more about all things beer, and coordinates beer and food pairings and dinners premised on sensory reward for the adventurous and curious. She is a producer of the finest pairing of all: quality beer and conversation. 
Angela is currently studying for the BJCP exam and Master Cicerone exam from which she expects to advocate and educate for the craft beer community internationally. Besides beer, she enjoys burlesque shows and comedy of all varieties. And cats. 
You can check out more of her work at