John here. Last weekend we browsed the “make your own 6 pack” from the grocery store because it’s finally time for autumn brews (woo-hoo!). Unfortunately, the selection wasn’t fantastic. 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 long story short, Jess unofficially challenged me to go gourmet with grocery store beer and here’s the results.
First was the Newcastle Werewolf Blood Red Ale. It truly does have a blood red coloring (though you wouldn’t know it to see it in the bottle) and the hoppy taste was surprisingly clean. 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 less early fall leaves and more that late fall transition into winter. Everything’s bare and destitute, which 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 (and I don’t mean smoked like BBQ smoke, but more like a campfire smoke or a nice applewood smoke).
With this I would do a cactus pear and blood orange marinated smoked venison paired with caramelized fennel Yukon gold mashed potato, an heirloom tomato salsa, and finish it off with candied hazelnuts.
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. I thought of popular fall flavors like pumpkins, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and caramel; but this Yuengling also tasted like the beginning of the end of the season when the air has an earthy smell and a bonfire gives off that fresh burn smell as opposed to, say, 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, like 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. 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.
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.