During my visit to the Midwest, I took a little road trip from Milwaukee to the city of Peoria, IL for a beer dinner at Waterstreet Wines & Cafe. The dinner showcased several beers from the portfolio of Merchant Du Vin — a specialty beer importer based in the U.S.
Waterstreet Wines & Cafe is a relatively new sidewalk cafe at the end of the waterfront area in Peoria. They feature a menu of sandwiches, salads and lots of fondue as well as very well-thought out artisan wine and craft beer lists.
The owners of Waterstreet Wines & Cafe, Paul & Diane Hahn, also own Mackinaw Valley Vineyard. Paul Hahn has been awarded “Winemaker of the Year” several times by the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. All of the Mackinaw Valley Vineyard wines are available in the cafe — and many of them are available to drink by the glass.
The beer dinner featured a 5 course menu designed by the head chef at Waterstreet Cafe to pair with 5 different beers from the portfolio of Merchant du Vin. The beer tasting presentation was led by Brian Van Zandbergen from MdV.
And without any further ado, allow me to present my food & beer pairing notes from the evening…
THE WELCOME BEER
BEER: Pinkus Organic Altbier – Munster, Germany
Notes: 20 IBU, Organic Hallertau hops
- Appearance: bright, pale golden color
- Aroma: floral, earthy hops & slight biscuity malt
- Flavor: clean, dry and crisp with notes of biscuit malt and noble hops. Moderately bitter and slightly metallic with a clean, dry finish.
- Mouthfeel: light body, moderate carbonation, smooth body
- Overal Impression: I found this beer to be extremely refreshing after being outside in the hot sun. The bitterness and dryness was well balanced by the malts. Extremely easy to drink.
THE FIRST PAIRING
BEER: Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen — Aying, Germany
NOTES: 21 IBUs, Hallertau hops
- Appearance: Bright, rich golden-orange (marigold) color with a thick, foamy head.
- Aroma: Earthy with notes of rich Vienna malt and subtle hints of toasted malts.
- Taste: Initial taste is sweet, followed by a slightly bitter finish. Hops profile is moderate and the Vienna malt character dominates the palate. Fully attenuated and dry.
- Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, highly carbonated and smooth.
- Overal Impression: This is probably my favorite Oktoberfest on the market. The color is stunning in the glass and the rich Vienna malt is well-balanced with a bitter dry crispness. This beer reminds me of autumn — the color is similar to the bright orange sun and the leaves changing color. The crispness reminds me of cool autumn winds and the earthiness of the flavor reminds me of harvest and fallen leaves.
FOOD: Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen Braised Alligator
NOTES: The alligator was extremely juicy as a result of the braising process. The flavors were very subtle, which allowed the almost gamey taste of the gator to show through. The meat was reminiscent of dark meat chicken and was easy to shred. Although the alligator was extremely chewy (as is its nature), the flavor was rather enjoyable.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The salt and slight spice from the beer-braised alligator paired well the earthy, sweetness from the Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen.
THE SECOND PAIRING
BEER: Lindeman’s Cuvee-Rene — Vlezenbeek, Belgium
NOTES: Lambic Gueze, 16 IBUs, aged Aged Kent, Brewers Gold & Coigneau hops
- Appearance: Hazy, golden color with a thick, frothy white head and excellent lacing.
- Aroma: Funky barnyard, horse blanket, earthy aroma typical of Brettanomyces and other wild yeast strands. Aroma has noticeably sour and acidic fruity esters — reminiscent of grapefruit rind.
- Taste: Moderately sour and acidic taste is balanced out by the unmalted wheat, pils malt and the weird funky/barnyard/horse blanket flavors from the wild yeast. No noticeable hop flavor (which makes sense since this style of beer uses aged hops). Finish is very dry.
- Mouthfeel: Light bodied, highly carbonated, slightly astringent.
- Overal Impression: It is not secret that The Wench is obsessed and preoccupied with the gueuze style of beer. Lindeman’s Cuvee Rene was the first gueuze I ever tasted and, to this day, it is still one of my favorites.
FOOD: Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup
NOTES: For a traditionally cream based soup, this version was relatively light in body (may have been thickened with both cream and potatoes). The wild mushrooms were completely pureed, which left the soup having an earthy and complex wild mushroom flavor with relatively no mushroom texture. There was bits of crunch here and there from small pieces of celery & onions. Great wild mushroom flavor.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This was both a complimentary and contrasting pairing. The acidity of the gueze helped to balance out the heaviness of the cream while the barnyard, funky yeast characteristics complimented the earthy characteristics of the wild mushrooms in the soup very well.
THE THIRD PAIRING
BEER: Samuel Smith’s Organic Cherry Ale — Tadcaster, England
NOTES: 16 IBUs, Organic Hollertau hops
- Appearance: Brilliant, deep red
- Aroma: Fresh cherries dominate the nose.
- Taste: Cherry explosion. The tart, acidity of the fruit balances the natural sweetness of the cherries. Dry finish.
- Mouthfeel: Light bodied, medium carbonation.
- Overal Impression: Well-balanced fruit beer. The cherry aroma and flavor is extremely dominant, but not in an overwhelming way.
FOOD: Compound Cherry Salad
NOTES: Light, fluffy cream-based mousse loaded with both sour and dark cherries, canned pineapple chunks, celery and slivers of raw, shelled almonds. The salad was delightfully sweet and loaded with lots of interesting textures. I loved the use of the two different types of cherry — one very sour and one very sweet. The almonds and celery added a much desired crunch.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This was very much a complimentary pairing. The cherries in the beer matched the flavor profile of the cherries in the salad. Both were fairly light in body and rather enjoyable. The use of a fruit compote as the third course seemed odd at first, but in the end I did enjoy it.
THE FOURTH COURSE
BEER: Lindeman’s Cassis Lambic — Vlezenbeek, Belgium
NOTES: 10 IBUs, Aged Kent, Brewers Gold & Coigneau, Black Currants
- Appearance: Hazy, deep reddish-purple
- Aroma: Fantastic black currant aroma with very subtle hints of wild yeast.
- Taste: Rich, sweet black currant flavor with a pleasant tartness and slightly detectable wild yeast funk.
- Mouthfeel: Mediume-bodied, highly carbonated and soft.
- Overal Impression: Out of all of Lindeman’s fruit lambics, the cassis is by far my favorite. The sweetness of the black currants is not overpowering and allows the tart funk of the wild yeast to show through.
FOOD: Spareribs with a Currant Reduction
NOTES: The spareribs were slow cooked for roughly 7 hours and, as a result, they were ridiculously tender. The ribs shredded with extreme ease and contained a relatively high fat content. The currant reduction was extremely sweet and, in my opinion, could have benefited by the addition of a dark liquor (such as bourbon or rum). The spareribs were paired with two very simple sides — fresh steamed broccoli and roasted new potatoes. The simplicity and lightness of the side dishes helped to balance out the complexity and fat of the spareribs.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Overall, the spareribs were outstanding. Very well cooked. The sweetness of the black currant reduction complimented the cassis lambic beer very nicely and both helped to break down the heavy fat of the spareribs.
THE FIFTH PAIRING
BEER: Traquair Jacobite Ale — Peeblesshire, Scotland
NOTES: Spiced Scotch Ale, 23 IBUs, Coriander
- Appearance: Relatively clear, deep ruby-brown color
- Aroma: Rich, malty & caramel aroma with hints of coriander, peat and earth.
- Taste: Rich, malty sweetness dominates the palate with hints of spice, roasted malts and earth. The finish is moderately sweet.
- Mouthfeel: Moderately-full bodied, medium carbonation, slightly vicious with warming attributes from the alcohol.
- Overal Impression: This beer in itself could easily suffice as dessert. It is warm, smooth and rich. The sweetness is nicely balanced by the roasted malt and smoky flavors.
FOOD: Berry Cobbler
NOTES: The berry cobbler consisted of at least 4 detectable types of berries — blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. The crust was rich and very buttery with lots of brown sugar and oats. The whip cream was noticeably homemade and added a delightful creaminess to the dish. Overall, the cobbler was rich, tart, buttery, sweet and extremely creamy.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Individually, both the beer and the cobbler were rich, flavorful and delicious. The tartness of the dessert worked nicely with the malty sweetness of the beer. Both were very rich, which made it hard to finish them.
SPECIAL THANKS TO WATERSTREET WINES & CAFE AND MERCHANT DU VIN FOR INVITING ME TO JOIN THEM IN THIS FANTASTIC BEER DINNER!