Sometimes, Beer and Food Tuesday just falls in your lap and today was one of those days. I got a call from Troy Burtch at Great Lakes Brewery this morning. Shockingly, he wasn’t called to yell at me for the outcome of the Ontario Brewmaster’s Cup. I would have been yelling, but Troy is a laid back fellow who understands that sometimes the rules just don’t work in your favour.
The reason they didn’t work in the favour of Great Lakes is that, while they make many beers that range towards exceptional, they’re seasonal. One of the best things they’re doing this year is taking advantage of the R&D that Mike Lackey has been doing over the last couple of years and releasing fairly large batches of what would have been pilot brews. The first one was the Robust Porter, which was well received by just about everyone. Hell, even Alan liked it and he’s a hard man to impress.
The one that they’ve got out now is the one that I’m excited about. It’s the 25th Anniversary Belgian Saison. Lackey has been working on a number of Saison variants for a while, and I’ve been following the process relatively loosely from point when he started experimenting with fermentation temperatures. It was a while back. Probably a year and a half. I figure that’s no time at all in craft brewing. This is how good Lackey’s experiments have been: Other people have followed suit. There are a bunch of breweries experimenting with this now. Nevermind whether it’s commercially viable on the large scale; they like it and they’re doing it. That’s awesome.
Troy Burtch wants me to tell you some things: It’s going into the LCBO real soon. There are about 3000 bottles total. It’s going to cost $9.95. It will be in bars starting later this week. There is no wax on the bottle this time around because the folks at Great Lakes figure people will want to dive in and drink the thing. You could probably age it, but why would you? It’s a refreshing summer beverage.
Troy Burtch does not want me to tell you some things: His street name is “T-Bu”, even though that’s not very forceful. He is thought of as the gentlest and most respectful hustla.
The release for the Saison suggests that you pair this beer with seafood. I can tell you that this is something that definitely works. It’s an extremely complimentary pairing that reinforces the sweetness in shellfish and lobster. It’s actually strong enough to stand up to Salmon because of the peppery character of the Dupont yeast strain they’re using and the spices they’ve added. The body is light and relatively highly carbonated.
The release also says, “or go in a different direction with… Thai Food.” Groovy.
I’ve been wanting to experiment with Thai Food and beer. To be honest with you, people send me beer. Sometimes, it’s the good stuff. Sometimes, I nod politely. Either way, I’m generally happy about it. Thai Food, people only bring me if I dial up Just-Eat.ca in Google Chrome. Learning how to cook Thai Food with a sort of faux wok on an electric element is, I can guarantee you, some foodie’s version of hell. Sisyphus ain’t got nothing on a faux wok on an electric element. Your temperature control is basically zilch.
I’m not necessarily that worried about the technique. The flavours are important here. I suspect they’d be even better if you had the proper equipment.
Nua Pad Prik is, as far as I can tell, something no one agrees on. The only concrete elements seem to be Beef, chilies and bell peppers. The sauce changes from recipe to recipe, but I’ve used this one, partially because I remember the episode of the show the blog is talking about and I’m thinking about going to see Jamie Oliver at Massey Hall. He is a well intentioned man with a silly accent.
The recipe calls for fish sauce, oyster sauce and chilies. I had those kicking around. I was lucky enough to discover that there’s a Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays near my apartment. I went over and got some beautiful bell peppers, garlic, onion and some grass-fed round steak. Also, I got some Oaxacan Coffee from Chocosol. 12 bucks a pound. I love beer, but without coffee I start freaking out.
I’ve been playing with the recipe with various proteins over the last week, and I’ve left out the cornflour, which is really only there to act as a thickening agent to coat the beef. I’ve changed it so that the garlic goes in the marinade for the beef. The farmer’s market garlic was incredibly pungent, so I liked that component at that point. I had the beef sliced thinly enough that the garlic would never have had the chance to char. Also, I substituted half of the chilies for Sambal Oelek. It’s hard to predict how hot a chili will be. Sambal never changes.
This is pretty complex, when you take the component ingredients into account. The beef, probably because I’ve used good beef, is relatively mildly flavoured. The bell peppers shine through with a sweetness and a slight bitterness of their own. The difficulty is that because it’s a stir fry and my julienning skills are … uh… rusticated… it’s hard to get a composed mouthful that brings everything into focus.
What you end up with, then, are the impressions of two separate pairings that are reinforced by the sauce. Both the peppers and the beef seem to take on the fermented tang and salt of the fish sauce and the subtle sweetness of the oyster sauce. This means that as an underpinning you’ve got that sort of shellfish sweetness pairing that they actually suggested 500 words ago. If you get a bite with enough bell pepper, it’s a race between the sweetness of the saison and the sweetness of the pepper on to the palate, and as those cascade (or rather Columbus, I suspect) into the mid-palate, you get the pop of citrus from whatever hop is being used here before a mild spice finish. If you get a bite with the beef, which seems to take on the more of the heat, you end up with a really exaggerated sensation of carbonation, but instead of the hops it’s an exaggerated kick of coriander and white pepper with a sort of lifting sensation on the swallow.
This is a really interesting pairing, food wise, and probably worth trying. You either need better knife skills than I’ve got or the willingness to accept that this one is a thinker. The different textures combine to make it even more interesting. Plus, the beer seems to relieve the heat completely.
WHAT DID WE LEARN:
1) Even if you’re surprised by the effect of a pairing, that’s going to be a useful lesson down the road. Plus, at least you ate. There are Children starving in Freedonia.
2) My knife skills, while not bad, ain’t chef level and I should probably take that into account.
3) “T-Bu” is indeed the gentlest hustla.