Last weekend we grabbed a “make your own 6 pack” from the Beagle because it’s finally autumn beer season. The selection… could have been better. We do prefer local breweries over the big label brands, but beer is beer and food is food and anyone who knows me knows I love dreaming up pairings, so Jess unofficially challenged me to go gourmet with grocery store beer.
First was the Newcastle Werewolf Blood Red Ale. It’s called a “blood red ale” and the bottle’s all dark, but once you pour it, it truly does have a blood red coloring. You definitely wouldn’t know it to see it. It had a hoppy yet clean taste which I didn’t mind.
I think it lived up to its name because when you think of werewolves, you think of fall, winter, and darkness. This is a fall beer, but it’s not early fall with leaves and stuff. It’s that late fall transition into winter when everything’s bare and destitute. In turn, it makes me think of piney things like rosemary, thyme and fennel. Those are all woodsy flavored things that would go well with other smoked goods. I don’t mean smoked like BBQ smoke, but more like a campfire smoke or a nice applewood smoke.
I also think of what a werewolf would eat and I think of venison. With this I would do a cactus pear and blood orange marinated smoked venison. I would pair that with a caramelized fennel Yukon gold mashed potato, an heirloom tomato salsa, and finish it off with candied hazelnuts. If possible I’d do a prime rib.
A lot of people like those lean cuts, but they don’t have any flavor. You also don’t want anything too fatty because it gets real grisly. Prime ribs are right on with their beef-fat ratio. Like the ribeye, the prime rib has the perfect amount of marbling, which is fat coursing through the flesh and the flesh itself. It marinates well because that fat can take on real strong flavors.
We also tried the Yuengling Oktoberfest just because. It was a very medium body. It wasn’t like drinking a meal, but it wasn’t light either. It was also very, very super fall. And super early fall — like pumpkins, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and caramel. Basically all things Halloweeny. It also tasted like an autumn bonfire. When I think of an autumn bonfire, I think of an early autumn smell and taste when everything is freshly dead.
This Yuengling tasted like the beginning of the end of the season when it’s not too cold and there’s still that first leaf feel about. The air has that earthy smell and a bonfire gives off that fresh burn smell. Not like a campfire. If you don’t know what I mean, think of a bag of chips. You know how the first time you open the bag, the chips are crisp and fresh and have that just opened smell? But then later, it starts to taste stale and old and not bad but not good? It’s like that, but the bonfire is the new bag and the campfire is the old bag.
I would do a German mixed plate kind of dish for this one. I’d make an orange and tomato braised lamb osso buco, a chicken schnitzel with a honey clove soft boiled egg on top, and sausage that consists of marjoram, thyme, pepper and pork with a maple glaze on top. There’s a lot of edible pumpkins out there, so why not treat it like an acorn squash and peel it, slice it, and grill it. The whole platter would come with chargrilled rosemary pumpkin slices and a lemon braised red cabbage.
Then there’s the Ellicottville Brewing Company Blueberry Wheat Beer. Holy effin’ blueberry. This beer was very fruity but woodsy (woodsy like almost grass woods). I thought it was very good. It had nice, floral overtones that kind of got into your sinuses a little bit. Sometimes wheat beers are mellow and don’t have a really strong flavor, but this one surprised me. It was a very unexpected touch for a blueberry wheat beer. This is a wheat beer that would go well with meats or game. Some food types that it could be paired with would include lemongrass, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, fennel, or caraway seeds.
For this pairing, I’d do a pheasant confit wrapped in a lavender crepe topped with a white chocolate and lemongrass velouté, sliced red grapes, fried fennel shavings and a caraway seed-infused oil.
Last but not least, there’s the Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest. This Oktoberfest had a disappearing hop, meaning it was there and then gone real fast, which I was surprised to find. The flavors made me think of crunchy leaves, burnt ash, rotting pumpkins, and melting candle wax. How’s all that for October? We’re familiar with this beer family because we’ve enjoyed their Summer Shandy in the past (it kinda tastes like fruity pebbles, right?).
This Oktoberfest also reminded me of fruit, not so much in the beer but in the pairing. It’s a beer I would definitely drink with something very sweet to balance it out, like a dessert. I think this would be great with a nice caramel apple, blackberries, or tart cherries — so I’d make a nice maple poached Granny Smith apple dipped in caramel and pistachios, stuffed with a vanilla and tart cherry custard.