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Beer and Food: Estrella Damm Tapas Journey

There’s always something a little dispiriting about a delivery you’re not expecting showing up at the apartment when you’re out of town. All you can really do is buzz the guy into the building with instructions to leave it in front of your door and hope that the neighbours don’t have a larcenous streak. My neighbours have been uniformly excellent for the last decade. The only time a delivery has ever gone missing, I got a knock on the door and an apologetic “I think they delivered this to the wrong apartment.” We don’t even jaywalk in midtown.

I had forgotten about the phone call entirely until Sunday evening, but there sat the unmolested package, its contents unknown. It turned out to be part of a promotion for Estrella Damm focusing on Tapas and containing gift certificates to go and eat food. I like delicious, punchy food and there is apparently a contest on to go and see Ferran Adria.  I have read the El Bulli cookbook, so I can get behind that. The problem that I have is with Estrella Damm itself.

The Spanish have not traditionally been thought of as much of a beer culture. Marvelous wines. Tart, refreshing sidra. I’m given to understand from flashes of social media that there is craft beer in Spain (just like everywhere else) and that the scene is expanding with some rapidity. Long before that, Spain got what everyone else got: expatriate German brewers.

It happened in the USA and Canada and Thailand and Japan and Mexico. It happened everywhere. Around the period of German unification under Bismarck and the wars and general strife such a political consolidation yields, Germans left border regions like Alsace, Swabia and the Palatinate. I have talked about this before and about the eventual ramifications on what we think of as beer food in North American which is basically a modified Oktoberfest diet.

In places where you got brewers independent of a large population of settlers, you got more or less the beer that was popular in Germany at the time. The trend had been lightening lager styles edging towards the Helles: Less hopping, less body, lighter colour. If you ever wondered why mass produced lager was so popular worldwide, that’s the reason.

Estrella Damm is from about 1876 and was the result of August Damm moving from Alsace to Barcelona. It’s even lighter than the styles in Germany from that era and included barley and rice at its inception. It now contains barley, rice and corn. If you pay close attention to the aroma, you can pick out both the steamed rice and corn grits far more quickly than you can detect any specific hop character. To a modern craft beer audience, Estrella Damm is more or less anathema.

David Chang wrote a piece a while back championing beers like this. Garrett Oliver wrote a follow up piece which amounted to a disbelieving “Really?” and we all had a couple of days of angsty navel gazing while wondering whether Mr. Lucky Peach might have been right. I’m suspicious when a cook tells you he prefers a thin watery gruel of barley, rice and corn over something a touch more piquant. You’re told frequently if you follow beer media that there are three kinds of beer and food pairing: Cut, Contrast and Compliment. There’s a fourth and it comes largely under the heading of “get the hell out of the way.”

When it comes to cuisines from countries that didn’t grow up alongside beer, it’s no wonder they prefer something that gets out of the way. The important thing is not really that the beer matches the food. The important thing is that the beer is cold and washes the food down.

Take a look at this plate of tapas from Cava in Toronto. Cava is at Yonge and St. Clair and they’ve been doing high quality Spanish and Andorran tapas since 2006, long before the current wave of Bourdain inspired interest.

Gratuitous product shot. Hooray!

Gratuitous product shot. Hooray!

On the left you have a skewer with a creamy room temperature manchego, a ribbon of jamon trevelez and a quail egg pickled in a rice wine vinegar escabeche. In the centre, you have fried chickpeas with a zatar comprised of sesame seeds, salt, sumac, oregano and marjoram. On the right, a crostini with smoked mackerel, grilled asparagus and small segments of pink grapefruit.

These things are designed as bites and they are more or less self-contained. The slight acidity from the pickled egg contrasts the creaminess from the manchego and is brightened up by the salt and light smoke from the jamon. A more assertive lager like a pilsner might be on more equal footing than Estrella Damm, but if the idea is to showcase the food you want something that won’t leave any impression at all. “Vaya!” says the jamon. “Get out of the way.”

I wondered whether it might not be a good idea to try one of the other locations on the tour that was not cadging from the Spanish pantry. Valdez looked like a good option with its Latin American inspired street food, but it wasn’t really far enough away.

Funny Fish. The fish probably don't find it as funny as I do.

Funny Fish. The fish probably don’t find it as funny as I do.

I settled on Kanpai Snack Bar in Cabbagetown at Carlton and Parliament, since I really don’t know about Taiwanese food and I figured it’d be a good test of the theory. I’m also pleased to report that Kanpai is quite good value for money and that the hip hop naming conventions of the menu are a lot of fun. As I understand it, Taiwan’s food exists as a sort of crossroads of various Asian influences. Will a Spanish beer work?

MC Hammer Chicken so called because of its untouchability. It is almost too legit.

MC Hammer Chicken so called because of its untouchability. It is almost too legit.

The Kanpai tapas menu consists of MC Hammer, a sort of spicy popcorn chicken in a karaage style differentiated by what I think was Szechuan peppercorn in the breading. There’s Taiwanese Antipasto consisting of pickled carrot, lotus root and seaweed given a sort of japchae treatment. Finally, Funny Fish, a bar snack of fried mini fish and tofu with peanuts and chilis.

I really enjoyed the lotus root, which seemed to have taken on a little numbing heat from some szechuan peppercorns. I should have asked, I suppose.

I really enjoyed the lotus root, which seemed to have taken on a little numbing heat from some szechuan peppercorns. I should have asked, I suppose.

This is an excellent metric for the “Get out of the way” school of thought. Everything goes with delicious fried chicken and the stinging zazz of the breading really only demands cold and wet. The salt and acidity of the antipasto enforce similar criteria. The Funny Fish are vaguely reminiscent in flavour profile of Lao Gan Ma because of the peanut and chili oil and between the funk of the tiny fried fish and the friability of their little skulls between your teeth, it’s hard to know what could possibly stand up to that in a conventional sense.

I wouldn’t choose to drink Estrella Damm by itself. While it’s well made, I find it pretty boring. I doubt that I could pick it out of a lineup in a blind taste test with other breweries founded in similar circumstances. That said, I can certainly see why it would be popular in Spain with small punchy dishes that demand of it only that it be cold and wet and contain alcohol.

Review and Food Pairing: St.Ambroise Erable

The Background

St.Ambroise sold a couple of years back to Brasseurs RJ and the quality has kept up. Originally helmed by Peter McAuslan and Ellen Bounsall, the beers have been and continue to be largely English in their influence. While we tend to see a lot of Belgian influence in some of the newer breweries in Quebec, there was a period fairly early on in the craft beer renaissance when a lot of the styles were English. They seem to be one of the first Quebec craft breweries to have realized that they can put their beer in cans in that market and it’s a real strength for them. In Ontario, where the can is rapidly becoming king, it just means that they can compete on an even playing field.


You can tell it’s Maple because of the Maple Leaf. This is also how we know that Canada is Maple flavoured.

St.Ambroise continues to expand their product list. They’ve come out with an IPA and a double IPA and most recently a Session IPA (because if you don’t do that, the beer police will come in the night.) Their fruit beers are complex and interesting and their Russian Imperial Stout and Vintage Ales continue to do them proud. There’s a hell of a lot to be said for consistency. While some of their beers are probably not to everyone’s taste, they’re very representative of the brewery’s character over the long term.

The Beer

St.Ambroise, despite their well-deserved reputation for quality, were apparently apprehensive about releasing this beer to market. This is odd as the person who wanted them to brew it was larger than life bon vivant Martin Picard of Au Pied du Cochon and Cabane Sucre fame. When you think about it, a maple beer is ideal for his winter Sugar Shack. Also, I figure it’d be hard to say no to a guy that large and friendly.

I’ll be honest. There aren’t a lot of maple beers that I like. I’m not sure that I’d drink more than a couple of the St-Ambroise Maple in a year, although I’ll gladly recommend it and I’ll tell you why: Subtlety.

At a recent tasting I had a sip of a Maple beer from Flying Monkeys called Acadian Groove that was all that was maple. They might end up chugging it in Super Troopers 2. It replicated perfectly the effect of syrup and if you had poured it on your pancakes I am not convinced that you would have been able to tell the difference. Maple requires a deft hand because it can so easily overpower the beer or get fermented almost entirely out of the beer if added at the wrong point in the brew. If you want to go extreme on it, you can easily do so, but I’ll ask that you time it for Shrove Tuesday.P1030953

Erable manages to balance the sweetness of the maple syrup by bridging it to the crystal malt in the beer and then letting the Willamette hops scrub the palate a little. It’s a good choice because they’re earthy and peppery. You can’t use a hop that resembles coniferous flavours in a deciduous beer. It makes no sense. There’s still a lingering cloud of retronasal maple at the finish, but it’s quite reasonable compared to shotgunning a can of Canada no. 1 Extra Light.

The Arbitrarily Chosen Score Based on Various Criteria

Not today. Instead we’re doing:

Food Pairing

Barry Pletch, McAuslan’s Ontario representative, asked me what I would pair with the Maple Beer. I’m a Cicerone, so I ought to know what to do with it, but it sort of sat at the back of my mind taunting me for a couple of days.

The obvious choice here is to stare at Martin Picard’s menu and steal something beautiful. Let’s do that for a second by clicking here. I think that the sweetness needs something to offset it. A lot of the stuff on the menu is going to be rich and fatty Quebecois fare of the type that sticks to your ribs. I’d be tempted to go with the Blue Cheese, Apple and Endive salad if only because the salt and funk of the blue cheese would treat the maple like a dessert flavour while the bitter Endive freshens between bites. Otherwise, there’s the Duck Magret in mushroom sauce which would be rich enough to stand up to the beer if not stop it in its tracks. Rich, earthy, but you’re probably working to the hop profile at the expense of the maple.

Then I had a less obvious thought.

You know when you’re walking along the street and suddenly you smell maple? That used to happen in another life when I worked over at Don Mills and Eglinton near a spice processing factory. It turns out that’s because when they processed fenugreek, you’d get this odd maple aroma floating through the air. If you eat enough fenugreek leaves, you’ll actually begin to smell like maple. This is down to a chemical called Sotolon.

Fenugreek is pretty exotic and tends to be used in Armenia, Iran and bits and pieces of North Africa and India. That’s why I’m switching from Martin Picard to a different Canadian chef, Vikram Vij. This recipe for Marinated Lamb Chops with Fenugreek Cream Curry looks to me like it would bridge the gap nicely by making the maple the communal flavour element between the beer and the dish. Both food and drink should have enough other stuff going to be able to pull in separate directions without breaking apart.

Warning: your coworkers might refer to you as Pancake Jimmy for a few days.

Review: Local Leaside

“You know, Andy, when I was your age…” was the way that I’d started the sentence, and I immediately wished that I hadn’t. There’s nothing to make you feel old like having to explain your context to your younger brother. Before Andy was born, I was given my first cellphone just in case everyone had to head to North York General on short notice. It was a Motorola flip phone that would not only ruin the line of your jacket but rip right through the fabric.

We’re sitting in Local Leaside which has inhabited, after vast and obviously costly renovation, the bones of a CIBC branch two blocks from the house I lived in as a teenager. On the longer arc of Leaside history, I can tell you that my maternal Grandparents, Sid and Evelyn, used to bank in that branch. To give you some idea of how long ago that was, I can tell you that their account number was 123. Identity theft is, sadly, unlikely at this point.

At some point, the lounge on the second floor would have been a Manager's office. I can't help but wonder what Sid and Ev would have made of it.

At some point, the lounge on the second floor would have been a Manager’s office. I can’t help but wonder what Sid and Ev would have made of it.

Local Leaside is the most recent development in an area that has rapidly changed over the years. When I was 16 the buildings that mostly dotted the landscape were disused industrial plants like Canada Wire. Leaside was one of the first planned communities in Canada, existing from a period before we developed tract housing like Don Mills. The first and second generations of residents are almost all gone now and young families lucky enough to be able to afford the mortgages are settling in.

Leaside has begun to play to their strengths. It currently boasts a showpiece of a Longo’s in a repurposed rail depot that has its own Corks beer and wine bar. It has one of the best LCBOs in the province and a new Beer Store. The Amsterdam Brewery is just down the street. Big Box stores dot the landscape with an amount of parking that once seemed optimistic to say the least. When I was 16, all we had was a Great Canadian Bagel.

Andy and Emma. Dad (not pictured) sits to the left and ensures that shenanigans are kept to a minimum.

Andy and Emma. Dad (not pictured) sits to the left and ensures that shenanigans are kept to a minimum.

I’d brought Andy and Emma along with Dad to see Local Leaside. They’ve been watching the renovations take place for months, so it seemed like a fun idea to get them in during the soft launch to get a sense of the place. I had been to Local Liberty Village when it opened and it seemed like a family friendly establishment. I also had the suspicion that the kids wouldn’t pull any punches. Andy already writes a coming attractions column for his school paper and Emma is whip smart to begin with.

Pausing briefly to chat with my third grade teacher, who I recognize at a two top near the bar (if I wasn’t already feeling old, that would have clinched it) we choose a padded banquette set up opposite the bar. By the time I catch up with the kids they’re sipping on ice tea and coke respectively. Andy’s observation “this is like a more rustic Urban Tavern” immediately raises one of the neighbourhood questions. How will Local, a transplant from Vancouver, compete against the local chain? Both have craft beer on tap and aim for an upscale pub experience. Emma, the more musically inclined of the two seems to give us the answer moments later: It’s the vibe the place provides. She happily sings along to Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” coming over the stereo.

Local has set up a station for Caesars, replete with pickled green beans. The amount of retrofit that went into the building must have cost millions.

Local has set up a station for Caesars, replete with pickled green beans. The amount of retrofit that went into the building must have cost millions.

The house made Guacamole disappears almost as soon as it hits the table, but it takes a little prodding to get the kids to try the Tuna Poke. It’s light and refreshing and reflects the west coast menu that Local has transplanted to Toronto. The citrus brightens the Avocado and the sesame adds texture. Dad and I get through small glasses of Beau’s Tom Green Milk Stout and Left Field’s Maris*. No fewer than five servers have been to the table in the 15 minutes since we sat down and Calamari has appeared from nowhere. The breading, if I remember from the Liberty Village Launch, contains Szechuan peppercorns and there’s a small, fiery zip to them.

Emma remarks on the service: “Jordan, why are they being so nice to you?” Dad laughs. It’s a good question, and it forces me to explain what I do for a living; that this is a soft launch and the restaurant has more staff than usual and that everyone is on their best behaviour. “So they invite you to come and eat and drink for free?” I nod. “And they expect you to write about it?”

The tap selection leans towards craft, both gateway and trending. As a side note, I should point out that it's hard to take proper advantage of an open bar when your third grade teacher is downstairs.

The tap selection leans towards craft, both gateway and trending. As a side note, I should point out that it’s hard to take proper advantage of an open bar when your third grade teacher is downstairs.

Sometimes I don’t write about it. I didn’t do much other than tweet about the Liberty Village location (I hate going to Liberty Village. It’s labyrinthine and constantly shifting as though the buildings conspire to keep you within it.) Emma has already figured out that for any blogger there’s the potential to acquire swag and pay for nothing. You know your parents have raised a good kid when they twig to the moral component of a problem immediately.

There’s a period where people disappear from the table. Dad is enticed by a Margarita at the upstairs bar and we seem to take it in turns visiting the Taco Station. The two varieties, fish and chicken, come with soft tortillas, cabbage slaw and a cilantro heavy Baja salsa. The silence from Andy on the subject of the tacos is due to the fact that he makes his way through two plates of them. He’s 6’5” and has the metabolism of a small neutron star. He even tries and then adds the hot sauce, which is something I’ve never seen him do before.

Here are the men who stare at tacos. A note on the ceiling above them. It is a retractable skylight that slides open to create a patio in clement weather. I haven't seen that before, but I love the idea.

Here are the men who stare at tacos. A note on the ceiling above them. It is a retractable skylight that slides open to create a patio in clement weather. I haven’t seen that before, but I love the idea.

Emma raises another interesting point. The servers make her a little self-conscious (even though she has no reason to be). There’s no doubt that the staff are a good looking group and I wonder briefly whether they’ve come out of central casting. It’s a valuable insight and not something that I would have considered. I recall that another of the Vancouver chains, Earl’s had caused controversy when it opened on King Street in 2011. I suppose image is intractably a part of the service industry, but sometimes it takes a 15 year old girl to point out the obvious. I pride myself on having some sensitivity to these issues, but the knowledge that it makes my little sister uncomfortable means that I’ll be more vigilant in future.

Overall, Local Leaside is a good addition to the neighbourhood. The tap list includes a number of selections from larger and up and coming craft brewers in contrast with a small number of macro taps to keep everyone happy. It also raises an important demographic point. As young couples have children and move away from downtown to established suburbs, they are still going to want some nightlife. This is the first generation for whom craft beer always existed and the possibility is going to exist more and more frequently to expand sales and distribution to areas outside of the downtown core.

On Malt Lightening and the Beer Style Continuum


As far as I can tell, every single brewery is issued one of these when they get their license. I’ve never been in a brewery that doesn’t have one kicking around. Look at it sometime and note the visible difference in malt colour. A good rule of thumb is that the lighter the malt, the later it was developed.

Last time we talked about German Beer and Food (scroll down a couple of posts) we had established some pretty basic truths about the situation in Germany prior to the advent of Oktoberfest. We talked about how the flavours in German landrace hops more or less matched the flavours in the herbs and spices available in Germany. We talked about Oktoberfest as an expression of the modernization of the German agricultural system. I know that it isn’t Oktoberfest anymore, but sometimes these things take a while to percolate.

A lot of the styles that you think of as German beer didn’t exist at the beginning of the 19th century. Altbier existed in Dusseldorf in a broad sense although it would have been different from the versions we get today. Bock had been around for quite a while, with the town of Einbeck claiming its advent in 1351. Dopplebock had been brewed by the Pauline monks from the mid 18th century. By 1798, the Bavarian branch of the Wittelsbach family had decided to allow their monopoly on Weissbier to lapse, giving license to several entities to produce a similar product. In Munich, the prevailing style was Dunkel. People were also making things like Kellerbier and Zwickelbier with bottom fermenting yeast[i], especially in the northern bits of Baden-Wurttemberg and Franconia, but they would have been darker in colour than we are accustomed to.

The thing that these beers have in common is that they are uniformly pretty dark in colour. The Weissbier is the exception that proves the rule. In order to make a beer that was much lighter than 15-20 SRM in the late 18th century in Germany, over 50% of your grist had to be wheat.

The early 19th century created a sort of renaissance for brewing in Europe due mostly to technological advancement. Beer Styles as we now think of them, catalogued by Michael Jackson, are thought of usually as entirely separate entities, but their development exists on a temporal continuum. Usually the development of a new style is influenced by an old style and a new ingredient, process or cultural influence. At the moment, we’ve got hops in a wider variety than has ever existed and that’s due to technology, genetic manipulation and cross breeding.

You’ll recall that there were really only four varieties of German hops. They didn’t have a roadmap for genetic inheritance. There was only one kind of yeast and they didn’t really understand how it worked yet. The water was however it was. The single most important discovery in the entire history of brewing, the one that caused brewers all over Europe to suddenly create new beers, was the ability to reliably heat a kiln to a specific temperature.

A direct fired kiln is not bad for pottery, but it’s terrible for malting. For one thing, it’s extremely inefficient. You’ve got to fire the kiln and then wait for it to get to about the right temperature. You’re more or less guessing about what the temperature is and where it will be over a long period. You’d develop a knack for that eventually, but there’s only so much you can do with it. The lack of precision means that your malt is going to turn out darker than you want and it’s going to take on some flavour from whatever fuel you’re using to heat the malt. If you’re in a place where you’ve got to use wood or peat for fuel that means wood smoke. That’s a geographical problem. If you’re in Upper Canada in 1820 and you’re making your own malt, you probably don’t have access to coke or coal. You were probably using wood or charcoal because there’s lots of it. Slight smoke flavour.

Another way that it’s inefficient is that darker malt is going to tend to have less diastatic power. In order to get the beer to the strength that you want it to be as a finished product, you’re going to have to use more malt. More malt is going to result in the darker beer styles that we’ve already mentioned. It’s quite expensive because you need more barley to make the same amount of beer.

Gabriel Sedlmayr's Spaten Brewery. Munich Lager changed irrevocably with the adoption of (and improvement on) English malting techniques

Gabriel Sedlmayr’s Spaten Brewery. Munich Lager changed irrevocably with the adoption of (and improvement on) English malting techniques

By the time that Anton Dreher was a brewing apprentice in the 1830’s, he was touring England to see what techniques they were using. This was pretty common practice amongst brewers in the 19th century. Because no one was in direct competition with each other internationally, trade secrets weren’t particularly highly guarded. By 1836, he had brought English malting techniques back to Schwechat near Vienna. It wasn’t exactly Pale Malt. It was darker than that. It was closer to a light Crystal Malt roast and that’s what’s become known as Vienna Malt.

Informational exchange within the region happened almost immediately because Dreher was friends with the brewmaster at the Spaten Brewery in Munich, Gabriel Sedlmayr. Dreher borrowed Sedlmayr’s yeast and Sedlmayr borrowed Dreher’s malting technique. Informational exchange drives progress in any field, but the string of events these two brewers would put in motion would last until the 1950’s on another continent.

Artistry and refinement happen in German beer as a direct result of modernization of agriculture and industry. You can’t have barley to malt without increased yield and you can’t malt it to any degree of precision with shoddy tools. The hops, yeast and water did not change substantially. The lightening of malt leads to the lightening of beer. The styles exist as a basic continuum because they all result from the previous change. Because of the prevalence of rail and the ability to transport goods, each style inspires the next. They don’t exist in a vacuum.

Beer Style Creator Date Avg Bus Avg SRM AVG ABV
Vienna/Marzen Anton Dreher 1841 24 13 5
Marzen/Oktoberfest Gabe Sedlmayr 1872 24 10.5 5.25


This is the prime example. Functionally there may not be a difference between Marzen and Oktoberfest beer. However, in practice, Oktoberfest beer was introduced by Spaten in 1872 and the primary difference was the fact that they had developed a new malting technique. Instead of Vienna Malt there was Munich Malt. The lightening is only two and a half points on the SRM scale, but that requires a level of precision. How dark can you make the malt and still have diastatic power needed to convert starch to fermentable sugar?

Beer Style Creator Date Avg Bus Avg SRM AVG ABV
Schwarzbier Kostritzer 1543 27 23.5 4.9
Dunkel Munich 1800 23 21 5.05
Pilsner Plzen 1842 40 4.75 4.8
Dortmund Kronen 1871 26.5 5 5.4
Northern German Pilsner Radeberg 1872 35 3.5 4.8
Munich Helles Spaten 1894 19 4 5.05


If you start with Black Lager and move through Munich Dunkel which is formalized as a style by 1800, the departure once Dreher imports English malting techniques is pretty staggering. I’d put it to you that while people will talk about soft water and saaz hops, the defining characteristic of Pilsner is that it was nearly 10 SRM lighter than the other beers available during the 1840’s. Yes, it’s hoppy, but it’s also light gold in colour. That’s a huge departure. Northern German Pilsner is lighter and less hoppy. Dortumunder is significantly less hoppy and about the same colour.

That's light enough, mein freund. Put the rake down and step away from the floor maltings.

That’s light enough, mein freund. Put the rake down and step away from the floor maltings.

The brewers in Munich actually had some difficulty with Helles. Spaten created it and took a great deal of criticism from the other brewers for doing so. They thought that it was too light! They thought that it didn’t have enough character! That’s as light as German beer styles ever went.

As I’ve shown in the previous posts in this series, because German beer and food contain essentially the same seasoning agents as a result of the landrace hops and locally available herbs and spices, we can assume that we’re dealing exclusively with complementary pairings when we look at Oktoberfest food. Ultimately, the result of the beer getting lighter is that the food also gets lighter. The food needs less fat and can stand being less heavily seasoned. Weisswurst, for instance, is invented in 1857. Additionally, because industrialization has provided more quantity of food, the individual meals do not need to be as substantial. More people are working in cities. In point of fact, a lot of people are emigrating; they are Emigrating to America.

To this day, the largest ancestral group in the USA is German. It’s about 17.1%. From about the time of the revolutions in 1848, there was a huge wave of immigration to the United States. You’ll notice that by that time there was already Pilsner and Vienna Lager in Germany. It was fairly widespread and these people would have had context for that. They had seen the lightening of beer. The largest wave of immigrants came later on and they had seen even lighter beers in Germany. By 1900, Milwaukee, Cincinatti, and Cleveland were all at least 40% German. Every large town in the Midwest would have been at least 25-30% German. We’ve heard the names: Anheuser, Busch, Blatz, Schlitz, Pabst, Yeungling.

This map will explain more about America's brewing history than any other image I can show you.

This map will explain more about America’s brewing history than any other image I can show you.

When you have a population concentration like that, immigrants bring their ideas with them. In this case, they brought their progressively lighter beers along for the ride. If the defining concept of German beer in the 19th century has to do with making a beer that’s lighter in colour, the restraining factor had been how light the colour could be made with malt. Without the restriction of the Reinheitsgebot, these German brewers could pursue making even lighter beers with adjunct grains like corn and rice.

People claim that prohibition was the factor that created light flavourless commoditized beer, that people had gotten used to soft drinks. Really the blame lies with the fascination of making the beer lighter. It’s a construct that depends on industrial production. It was a good idea that got out of hand.  In Munich, they had the sense to stop at Helles. In America it spiraled out of control.

By the 1950’s we had light beer and America had thoroughly adapted the German feasting culture that is Oktoberfest. Bratwurst had become hot dogs. Frikkedellen had become hamburgers. What is a chicken finger but an unflattened chicken schnitzel? The commonality between the food and the beer is that they have been reduced to their least flavourful form in order to appeal to the largest number of people. There’s an idea that beer and food pairing is difficult, but it’s the foundation of American popular cuisine. America was a feasting culture, but without flavour and without joy.

Whether you believe it or not, this is German food.

Whether you believe it or not, this is German food.

We talk about the 3000 brewery mark in terms of craft beer. There’s an idea that it is important that we have reached the number of breweries that existed before prohibition in North America. The fact is though that the makeup of those breweries is significantly different than it would have been before prohibition. The majority of brewers would have been German and would have made lager. It might be time for Craft Beer to attempt to reclaim that heritage, additional ferment times be damned.

[i] A word on yeast: Throughout my career writing about beer, I’ve run into people who are a little confused about bottom fermenting yeast. I have met professionals who think that lager didn’t exist before 1840. Bottom fermenting yeast had been around and in use for a few hundred years before Emil Hansen managed to separate out a pure strain at the Carlsberg labs. I suspect that these are people who are using “lager” and “pilsner” as interchangeable terms.

The real question is how there was suddenly bottom fermenting yeast in the mid 1500’s. I have an elaborate theory involving Saccharomyces Bayanus, Dutch trading ships and the Rhine as a primary trade route to Bavaria. It’s as good as anyone else’s guess.


German Beer and Food Part 2: Terrines, Terpenes and Terroir

Last week (just scroll down a little), we ended up by talking about Oktoberfest and how it’s a sort of benchmark for the modernization of the Bavarian agrarian system. The impressive thing about Oktoberfest is not that it has been going on for 204 years. The impressive thing is how quickly it was adopted in other parts of the country. While Bavaria may have been out in front, Wurttemberg eventually launched a festival in Stuttgart.

The Canstatter Volksfest started in 1818. This is because the winter was so bad in 1816 that it negated any attempt at growing crops that year. The people of Wurttemberg were starving because there had been snow on the ground until May. The King was basically dependent on grain deliveries from his brother in law in Russia to prevent starvation, riots and uprising. In 1817, they decided that there should be a harvest festival. There should also be a new Agricultural University. These were Monarchs prolonging their reign by making concessions to science and rationality. An educated populous is notoriously bad for a Monarchy, however, one makes concessions when faced with an unruly mob with pitchforks and torches.

This period of privation, incidentally, was one of the reasons for German settlement in Kitchener and Waterloo in the 1820’s. It’s one of the reasons Ontario looks the way it does. In fact, it’s why the second largest Oktoberfest in the world takes place there.

Agricultural science takes a long time to propagate, or at least it did in the early 19th century. Gregor Mendel would not actually establish genetic heredity for another forty years. For the time being German Brewing was like German Cuisine: Taking advantage of scientific modernization, improved technique and vastly improved production to make strides ahead. Another similarity is that for the time being they were largely stuck with “landrace” ingredients.

In an age like we are in with GMO products basically everywhere and Monsanto issuing patents on their designs for plants, it’s a good idea to explain the concept of landrace. Landrace more or less means that the plant or animal variety that you’re using has been there since time immemorial; since before records were kept. There was a time when it wasn’t so easy to transplant crops around and grow them in greenhouse polytubes and glasshouse nurseries. There was a time when you were more or less stuck with what there was on the land when you got there.

Germany had landrace hops. They were actually spoiled for choice on the landrace hops. There are four basic varieties that we’re going to look at: Spalt, Tettnang, Hallertau and Saaz.

(I know what you’re going to say! Isn’t Saaz a Czech hop? It is named after a Czech town called Zatec, but Saaz is the German name for that town. Plzen, which is where you find a lot of all Saaz beers is less than 300 kilometers from Munich. One of the developments they enjoyed was trains. Let it go.)

Hop Variety % Humulene % Myrcene % Caryophyllene % Farnese % Alpha Acids
Spalt 21.5 20.0 12.5 12.5 3-5.5
Tettnang 22.5 22.5 8.0 14.0 3-5
Hallertau 40.0 32.0 11.0 0 2.5-5.0
Saaz 42.5 22.5 11.0 13.0 2.5-4.5


Don’t worry. You’re not going to be forced to do math.

In terms of the hops that were landraces in Germany, there are a few things we can tell from this information. The Alpha Acids are pretty low. These days, if you want a bitter beer, you put hops with high alpha acids in at the start of the boil. The Germans would have had difficulty making really bitter beer (by modern standards, anyway) without using a ton of whole leaf hops. The historical hopping rate for Pilsner Urquell was apparently 400-460 grams per hectoliter. That is before hop pellets. That’s a lot of trub at the bottom of the kettle. The beer in the region didn’t really get more bitter than 40 IBU, 45 tops.

If bitterness comes from Alpha Acids, then aroma comes from the oils in the hops. Those are the four columns in the middle. Now, typically aroma doesn’t survive when you add hops early in the boil. The byproducts of Myrcene in particular tend to disappear in a flash when added to the boil. When you dry hop or add hops at flame-out, you get a better result. Think of it like making a stew. If you add fresh herbs at the beginning, they’re going to get overpowered and cooked down. If you add fresh herbs at the end, you can actually taste the freshness of the herbs.

Myrcene’s byproducts are things like menthol, citral, citronellol, geraniol and linalool. More importantly, they are responsible for all of the aromas in your favorite American dry hopped beers. Modern hop varieties have been brew to extract specific byproducts from Myrcene. Take Citra, for example: Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Passion Fruit, Lychee. 65% Myrcene!

You’ll notice that the hops in the chart don’t have a lot of Myrcene. Every single one of the German landrace hops are higher in Humulene than Myrcene. The things that you tend to get out of Humulene’s byproducts are earthy, woody, or spicy. Humulene occurs in things like Bay Leaves and Tobacco and other kinds of herbs. Knee level forest floor stuff.

It’s also good to mention Caryophyllene. It mostly comes across as dry wood, spice and pepper. Some new varieties that you will have tried have bred it out completely. Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin are good examples of hops that don’t have Caryophyllene in any reasonable quantity.

What all this means is that the hops that German brewers had access to at the beginning of the 19th century were herbal, spicy, woody, peppery and potentially a little bit floral. It would have been more or less impossible to make a beer that tasted like an orange without adding some oranges. Landrace hops meant that they were stuck with these four varieties of hops.

That is a good thing because all of the other ingredients in Bavaria were also landrace ingredients. Everything that the peasants were using in their food and everything that would be adopted into the idealized festhallen fare we recognize as German food today was suited to the same terroir as the hops.

Let’s think about the herbs that German cuisine used for flavouring at the beginning of the 19th century:  parsley, thyme, bay leaves, juniper and caraway seeds. They also had salt and pepper.

Herb Aromatic and Flavour Components
Parsley Phellandrene, Myristicin, Myrcene, Menthatriene
Thyme Pinene, Cymene, Linalool, Myrcene, Thymol
Bay Leaves Cineole, Pinene, Linalool, Methyl Eugenol, Humulene
Juniper Pinene, Sabinene, Myrcene,
Caraway Seeds Limonene, Pinene, Caryophyllene
Black Pepper Sabinene, Pinene, Limonene, Caryophyllene, Piperene


From a beer and food pairing point of view, this explains just a huge amount about how German beer and food culture develops. For the most part, the beer that they’re making is going to be a complement to the food because the hops contain all of the same flavor components as the food from the region.

The brewers and beer drinkers did not know about hydrocarbons and terpenoids and aromatic compounds. At least, they didn’t have those words for them. They knew that what they liked and which things tasted good and that certain things went together. Most of these people would never have travelled much more than 100 miles from their homes. They would not have had context for other cuisines. What they would do over the course of the next century is refine the beer being made based on technological innovation to make the beer and food work better together.

We’ll talk about the refinement and development next time.

German Beer and Food Part 1: Parliament Frikadeller

(Ed note: This is longer than usual. There are no pictures. Next time there will be pictures. Promise!)

When we talk about beer and food pairing, we try to come up with shorthand rules. I’ve heard Stephen Beaumont suggest you treat Lagers like White Wine and Ales like Red Wine. I’ve heard Mirella Amato suggest light coloured beer with lighter fare and darker coloured beer with heavier fare.

Both of those are pretty good shorthands, incidentally. They address the main anxiety that everyone seems to have about beer and food pairing: There’s so much stuff. We have the entire world at our fingertips, culinarily speaking. It is essentially a form of choice paralysis that makes this difficult for people. If you’ve spent your entire life paying attention and eating good food, it’s less difficult.

We’re spoiled for choice in a way that no one, historically has ever been. I’m in Toronto, which is more or less landlocked and a thousand kilometers from the nearest ocean. There’s a place down the street which, for $17.99, will serve me about 18 different kinds of sashimi on an all-you-can-eat basis. The contents of just the spice bins at one of the Bulk Barn locations in Toronto would buy you a medieval village. If I decide I want to eat Kangaroo or Camel or Moose, I can go down to the St. Lawrence Market and chow down on the various denizens of nature’s splendor.

Given all these constraints something like Oktoberfest seems practically quaint. The simplicity is life affirming. There is a sausage and some cabbage and probably some potatoes or spaetzle. It’s very straightforward and there’s even a specific beer to go with it. Marzen! They brew it in March, it sits underground in casks during the summer and then they serve it to people at Oktoberfest. It’s simple and tasty.

It’s also the result of hundreds of years of refinement, privation, misery and eventual triumph.

Germany has always been in some state of flux if we’re speaking historically. I remember watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on the news as a grade schooler. It didn’t actually become a nation state until 1871. Before 1806, it was more or less the Holy Roman Empire. Really, Germany was a series of pocket fiefdoms and principalities that were all governed by disparate laws and which did not have much in the way of trade with the outside world.

If you were a peasant in one of these principalities, you did not exist legally. The nobles would run roughshod over your fields while hunting. Your property (probably half a slab of bacon and your churchgoing smock) would revert to the nobles when you died. If you were lucky, they wouldn’t take your milk cow from you on a whim. You had to pay a tax to get married. You probably had to pay a tax to have children, depending on your location.

When you look at the surviving dishes in various regions of Germany and at the cuisine as it exists now, it’s pretty clear that the heritage was grim. From a purely carbohydrate perspective, the people in the uplands were able to grow significant amounts of grain. They had wide varieties including barley, wheat, oats, spelt, rye and so on. Bread was of paramount importance. If you cast around a little, you find that most large towns have their own varieties. Since German is a startlingly precise language, the word for supper is “abendbrot,” literally “evening bread.” If you were in the lowlands like Saxony, there might have been potatoes. If you were in a principality that was truly bereft, like Swabia, you didn’t even make bread. You made dumplings.

In terms of meat, you mostly had pigs. They kept cows and goats for milk, but probably didn’t eat them because the nutrional variety gained from dairy. They kept chickens, but mostly for eggs. If you look at a list of traditional German regional dishes, it’s rare to find chicken being used. If you were near the Rhine, you might get fish. In a lot of cases, they got protein from lentils.

From the standpoint of vegetables, you’re talking root veg and fast growing greens. Carrots, Onions, Turnips, Spinach, Broccoli and Cabbage. They didn’t really have spices. They had herbs: parsley, thyme, chives, bay leaves, juniper and caraway seeds.

To sum up, if you’re a peasant in Bavaria or Swabia or Baden or Wurttemberg (They had apples in Wurttemberg. Luxury!), you were eating a narrow variety of very basic grain based carbohydrates, with some pork, some dairy, and cabbage. The cabbage probably prevented you from getting scurvy. In Swabia, you had spaetzle and lentils. Every day. If you were lucky.

If you weren’t lucky, it was before the Reinheitsgebot. People talk about the 1487 Bavarian Purity Law as though it was about beer. It may have been partially about beer, but mostly it was about preventing brewers from competing for grains. If you ensure that brewers can only use barley by enforcing a royal decree, you keep the price of bread down. The only people who will find wheat and rye and oats and spelt useful are bakers. The local economy was so bad that they enforced pricing on beer: one to two pennies a litre.

Barley doesn’t make good bread. However, it’s hardy and easy to grow. It’s basically free calories. Making beer out of it is more or less a method of preservation from a dietary perspective. Barley by itself will go moldy fairly quickly. Beer will keep as long as you need it to, and you can use the leftover grain as animal fodder. It puts Dopplebock in perspective. It makes sense for the monks to fast on beer: It’s one of the only ways to preserve the calories from the previous year’s harvest to survive until lent.

Similarly, hops don’t make for good eating. While they may have some medicinal properties, their best use is as a flavouring agent for beer. Why outlaw gruit? It’s a production problem. You can farm hops. They don’t need a lot of attention. Usually gruit was made with yarrow, bog myrtle, juniper, rosemary or woodruff. These are things you have to gather. It is a massive waste of time compared to hops which you harvest once a year. Some of those ingredients are already culinarily in use, so the dual usage increases their cost.

You might ask what happens without the Reinheitsgebot price controls. Well, you’ll recall that I mentioned Swabia. In 1524, due to a population surplus, labour in Swabia was worth approximately nothing. The harvest that year was poor and the cost of food skyrocketed. These were people who basically ate Lentils and flour dumplings all the time and now they couldn’t even afford to do that. This is the kind of situation where people get killed over a parsnip. The tipping point was apparently when the Countess of Lupfen ordered serfs to collect snail shells so she could use them as spools for thread. The resulting revolts and retributional massacres thinned the peasantry across Germany by 300,000. The total population was only 12 million across all the principalities. In two years they wiped out about 2.5% of the population!

Jumping ahead a couple of hundred years, we suddenly have The Kingdom of Bavaria in 1806. What had happened was that the line of the Wittelsbachs, ruling family of Bavaria had died out and the Elector of the Palatinate had become ruler during a time when the French Revolutionary armies were overrunning the place. By 1806, they were on the second generation of rulers from the Palatinate line of Wittelsbachs and Bavaria was caught between an increasingly powerful France under Napoleon and the Hapsburgs in neighbouring Austria.

In 1806, Bavaria still had serfs. Because it was made out of small principalities that had been ruled in different ways by different nobles, the laws were different from one village to the next. The entire Kingdom was like that: incredibly outmoded. In France, the revolution had done away with monarchy. In Bavaria, they had not even been able to consolidate the disparate monarchic principalities.

Under Maximillian I Joseph of Bavaria, there was actual reform. There had to be; if they didn’t get their acts together, France or Austria would waltz in and take over. Maximilian Von Mongelas as chief minister oversaw the annexation of free towns and church lands and the holdings of lesser royalty. For the first time ever, there was a central government overseeing everything. There was standardization of agricultural production, which is the kind of thing you need if you’re going up against France or Austria. In 1808, the new constitution abolished serfdom. By 1812, they had abolished torture.

In 1810, Prince Ludwig of Bavaria got married. They threw a festival to celebrate. Oktoberfest!

What we tend to think of as German food is Oktoberfest food. Festhallen fare. Sausages and Pretzels and Sauerkraut and Sauerbraten and Schweinesaxe. It is really meat heavy. That’s not what people typically ate prior to modernization. Further, it would have been basically impossible to organize prior to modernization. Essentially, the Oktoberfest celebration demarcates a significant shift in agricultural production in Bavaria. The food being served is a sort of idealized version of the peasant sustenance that existed before centralization of government. It is a kind of annual bread and circus for the Bavarian people. (Ja! Ein Zirkusbrot!)

It is at this point in 1810 that Bavaria begins to produce the construct that dictates the way we think about beer and food pairing. It’s easy to talk about tradition and intent from this side of it. We’re sort of inculcated to think it’s brilliant. Hamburgers, after all, are just Frikadeller. Hot dogs are just Wurst. You have been eating Oktoberfest food at every family barbeque since you were born. It is not as though it was simply put under glass and existed as a static construct, either. Weisswurst, for instance, which I have been told since I started writing about beer is part of a typical mid-morning German snack wasn’t invented until 1857. By 1857, we had been making lager in Ontario for nearly 30 years.

Next time, we’ll look at the german beer and food construct from a scientific point of view and talk about why it works.

Beer and Food: Estrella Taqueria

“Try it with Mexican Food.”

This was the food pairing recommendation on a press release for a bottle of beer I got last year. I can’t remember which bottle exactly and it doesn’t matter very much. One of the things that many beer companies are guilty of when it comes to food pairing suggestions is inspecificity.

This is Mexico

It is the 14th largest country in the world at about 2 million square kilometers. It’s got about 120 million residents. It is big enough that the different regions all have their own cuisines. The cuisines are mostly derived from Aztec and Mayan traditions with a good deal of Spanish influence.

“Try it with Mexican Food.”

If you, as a brewer, are convinced that your beer is good enough that it will heighten the sensory experience of a meal, you owe it to the person buying your beer not to make them use a dartboard to narrow it down. Did you mean tamales or mole sauce or barbacoa or chalupas or what? Be specific. If you put “Try it with French Food” on your label, Escoffier’s spectre would come back to haunt you with a ghostly whisk. You can’t adopt the airs of gourmet sophistication and then just wave vaguely in the direction of Latin America.

For heaven’s sake, if you mean tacos, just write tacos. That narrows it down a little bit. More than likely, what you mean specifically is the Old El Paso taco kit with the luminescent neon ground beef seasoning packet. It’s the standardized ersatz version of the experience.

That’s fine if it’s Thursday and you’re in grade 11. This is Toronto and we’re adults, more or less.

I kept meaning to look for Glottis

I kept meaning to look for Glottis

You’ve got some options for tacos in Toronto at the moment and the newest one is Estrella Taqueria up at Yonge and Sheppard. That may sound like an odd place to open a Taqueria, but it makes sense when you consider that it’s at a junction of two subway lines and that the population at Yonge and Sheppard is young and multicultural. This is a good thing to remember if you’re a beer rep. The city does not end at Bloor.344

It makes more sense when you realize that the place is going to clean up as a bar. The feel is Dia de Muertos with vibrant colours scattered throughout. The owners are taking the thing seriously, having hired set designers and graffiti artists to instill a sense of occasion. They’ve got a rooftop patio that should be fantastic during the summer. They’ve got fifty varieties of Tequila and twenty five varieties of Bourbon. Most interestingly to me, they’ve got a pretty eclectic selection of beer available on draught and in bottles.343

Essentially, what this means is that there’s a place with punchy, flavourful tacos and a wide number of beers to choose from. If you’re interested in pairing beer with food, this is an excellent playground and a pretty good place to go with a group of people who want to try a bunch of different things.

When you break the taco down to its core components, it’s pretty clear that it’s simply a format. There are conventions for fillings, but it’s a good place to get a little creative. You could go authentic and use lingua as a cheap cut. You could go Baja and go with lightly battered fish. You could do just about anything with the filling. At Estrella, they’re running the gamut and it’s pretty clear that the menu is going to be in flux while the chef follows his inspiration and they develop some house favorites.

I suspect that when Harvey Keitel said "I'm hungry, let's get a taco." he didn't have oysters in mind. Still...

I suspect that when Harvey Keitel said “I’m hungry, let’s get a taco.” he didn’t have oysters in mind. Still…

Take the Oyster Taco, for instance. Cornmeal battered oysters with miso/celeriac remoulade and green tomato salsa. The miso complements the light briny flavour of the oyster and there’s a tartly sweet hit from the salsa that’s brightened up by a squeeze of lime and a sprig of cilantro. As near as I can tell, the celeriac is mostly there for texture, but there’s a slight starchiness in it that ties into a wheat beer. The Krombacher Weizen is a good choice for pairing here, but it seems a little too easy to just say “wheat beer and seafood.” The authentic choice would probably be a Vienna Lager here, since that’s mostly what there is other than Pale Lager in Mexico. King could do worse than try to get on tap at Estrella, since they’ve already got the Vienna Lager in bottles. It’s a contrasting pairing, given that the malty lager would provide a background for the highlights in those few bites to pop against.335

The Baja Fish Taco is heavier than I would have assumed, both in flavour and in terms of its sheer wet nap required physicality. The really interesting thing here is the combination of two kinds of heat. The chipotle aioli brings smoke while the pickled chilis are more directly assertive. For a single taco, you might want an IPA with some citrus character to let the acids battle it out. Oddly, despite the trend, the hoppiest beer on tap is Flying Monkey Hoptical Illusion. If you ordered a plate, you might need something a little lighter as the heat built. Let Hogtown and Beau’s respective Kolsches duke it out for your affection.339

Perhaps the most successful offering at Estrella is the Short Rib Taco, which is “braised with cola and cinnamon, served with chimichuri, caramelized onion, chipotle aioli with BBQ yucca chips.” The thing that I like most about this treatment is the braising method which seems to go incredibly well with the Krombacher Dunkel that they have on tap. The slight smoke from the chipotle and the peppery chimichurri really seem to work with the hefeweizen yeast. The yucca chips provide a much needed contrapuntal textural element. I am put in mind of the fact that the Germans do a type of shandy that is half hefeweizen and half cola. I don’t know why cola braise works so well here, but I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation lurking in the wings.337

There are many other items on the menu and given an afternoon and a group of people, you could make your way through a number of them at a leisurely pace, stopping periodically to play ping pong. I think they need an IPA on tap. In San Diego, one of the places I went for Tacos had Stone IPA. I think that the vibrant citrus character and acidity plays really well against some kinds of heat.





When you talk about pairing beer and food, there are a number of things to take into account. First of all, it should be pointed out that there is no perfect pairing. Throw that nonsense out the window right now. Food pairing exists on a sliding scale from better pairings to worse pairings and much of that is subjective.

What I’m going to do today is walk you through my thought process on pairing from start to finish in what I hope will become a regular feature (as long as the grocery budget holds out.) I don’t claim to be right all the time and I don’t claim to have all the answers. I can honestly claim to have thought about it a lot more than the average beer drinker. While I’m not a great cook, I’ve got shelves of cookbooks for reference. I make bread frequently enough that I’ve got the recipe memorized. It’s like my Great Aunt Greta said: “If you can read, you can cook.”



Fabian's labels have really been coming along. At least I think this is one of his. It could be the other dude whose name I didn't catch.

Fabian’s labels have really been coming along. At least I think this is one of his. It could be the other dude whose name I didn’t catch.

Sometimes, when the beer fairy hustles gently past, you end up with a bottle. In this case, I got a bottle of Lake Effect IPA and I had no real inroads to determining how I would use it. I could review the beer, but I’m dog tired of reviewing IPAs. I have to use the word “citrusy” once more in a review this year and I’m taking hostages, you know? Thankfully, Troy Burtch (T-Bu if you’re nasty) gave me the press release to go along with the beer and it contains suggestions for pairings. It covers things that I want to know, especially since I cannot pick out a distinct memory of Lake Effect from the Great Lakes IPA cavalcade.

In terms of the beer, it says the aroma is grapefruit, mango and tangerine. It is medium bodied and the malt notes are described as “subtle.” The interesting thing here is that the tasting notes suggest grapefruit, wintergreen, dill and pine on the palate. The finish is dry. It is 7% alcohol and 80 IBUs. It’s going to be very bitter indeed.

The name of the beer is geographically relevant and gives you a sense of how the brewer developed it. It was developed by Mike Lackey in Buffalo, New York drinking IPA on a stoop in the Elmwood neighbourhood.

The food pairing suggestions are: Roast Lamb Shanks, Pad Thai and Spicy Fish Tacos.


It’s November. The temperature outside is just over 10 degrees at the moment. It will be colder tonight. Fish Tacos are out because you’re going to want something substantial. Pad Thai doesn’t feel right. If it were purely citrus and pine, then maybe you’d match it with lemongrass and Thai basil. The inclusion of dill and wintergreen in the tasting notes tell me it might not work as well. Roast Lamb Shanks seem to be the remaining option.

I don’t like roasting as a cooking method for lamb shanks. They tend to dry out pretty badly. I prefer a cooking method that will braise them. This is a good idea because the IPA malt character is described as “subtle” and that means that there isn’t going to be a lot of that maillard character from the kiln. You don’t need to develop much brown flavour in a dish to complement that element. Braising is a better idea.

Let’s think a little bit about seasoning. I can’t do much with wintergreen. Consulting Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking reveals that wintergreen’s primary characteristic is methyl salicylate. Mostly that’s in mouthwash and gum. That sounds like a dead end.

Dill comes in bunches the size of your head. I better get some salmon or something later this week.

Dill comes in bunches the size of your head. I better get some salmon or something later this week.

Let’s think about dill. What does wikipedia tell us? The section on culinary use tells us that it’s used mostly in Northern and Eastern Europe. It’s sometimes used in conjunction with Caraway. Buffalo has a significant German and Polish heritage, by the way. Beef on Weck. Dill Pickles. Ok. McGee says dill tastes the way it does because of pinene and limonene. Now you’re talking pacific northwest hop monoterpenes, baby.

You want to roughly chop the aromatic dill just before you add it to the pot.

You want to roughly chop the aromatic dill just before you add it to the pot.

We need to find a recipe that will incorporate lamb as a protein, the geographic influence that might have influenced the beer’s development, the suggested dill note and the suggested citrus in the aroma. It needs some sweetness or at least starch to stand up the bitterness. It also has to be substantial because it will be cold out later. I am going to need a cookbook that tells me how to cook everything.

That was a gimme.

That was a gimme.

That’s handy.

Looking up dill, we get: Lamb Stew with Root Vegetables and Dill. Let’s give it a shot.


This is a basic one pot meal. You are going to need about 2 pounds of lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and cubed. If they’ve got stewing lamb, my advice would be to go with that if you’re uncomfortable cubing pieces of meat. You’ll need 3 cups of onions, one pound of potatoes, one pound of carrots, one pound of parsnips. You’re going to need three cups of stock. You will need a bunch of dill and a lemon.

You’ll notice that we’re not dredging the lamb in flour in this recipe. Like I said, the malt is meant to be subtle in the IPA, so we don’t need a lot of browned flavour to go with it. Add a small amount of oil to the bottom of your pot and add the onions and lamb. Let that cook a little bit while you get your root vegetables cut into pieces of approximately equal size. Once all of the root vegetables are cubed and in the pot, cover with stock. You could, I suppose, use beer. That seems like an expensive waste of alcohol.

When appropriate, use the brewery's glassware. I mean, were you born in a barn?

When appropriate, use the brewery’s glassware. I mean, were you born in a barn?

Remove the feathery bits from the dill and tie the stems into a bouquet garni. Throw the stems into the stew. In a really significant way, you’re actually mirroring the brewing process. If herbs like dill taste the way they do because of terpenes, you’re actually using the stems this early in the process to add a base flavour (not unlike bitterness) and you’re adding the fresh herbs at the end to add aroma. This is useful thing to remember.

When the stew has simmered gently for a couple of hours (either on the stove top or in a 350 degree oven), carefully extricate the stems from the pot. If you find, like I did, that your bouquet garni has come unravelled, feel free to curse loudly. Sample the stew. Salt and pepper to taste. Now, take the feathery bits from the dill and, having roughly chopped them, add them to the stew. Finish with the juice of half a lemon.


It's a tasty stew, but then again, it's hard to screw up a stew.

It’s a tasty stew, but then again, it’s hard to screw up a stew.

This pairing, now that I am eating it, is not quite perfect, but I think the ideas behind it are good. If Lake Effect were 15 IBUs less hoppy, it would be a great pairing. The sweetness matches between the two and the salt level is just about right. The dill and lemon really bridge the dish and the beer. The carbonation scrubs the fatty lamb from the palate, but the bitterness means that it never quite resets between bites.  It is a complementary pairing in the sense that they seem to get more like each other as it goes on.

From a purely technical standpoint, I’ve learned that I’ve wasted a decade simmering stew on the stovetop. Oven is the way to go.

Go ahead, St. John’s Wort Junior Rangers. Try it at home.

Additional Craft Beer Cookbooks and Delicious Nuts For Your Mouth

When I said that the best of the current crop of Craft Beer Cookbooks was the Canadian one, I should point out that it’s not out of bias. I mean, for one thing, I’m Canadian and it’s always nice when we win something. I also know the author, David Ort, so you might be inclined to see me as favouring the book for that reason. I can assure you that this is not the case, nice man though he may be.

The other two books are The American Craft Beer Cookbook: 155 Recipes from your Favorite Brewpubs and Breweries and The Craft Beer Cookbook: From IPAs and Bocks to Pilsners and Porters, 100 Artisanal Recipes for Cooking with Beer by John Holl and Jacquelyn Dodd respectively. Both of these books have their strengths as well.

In the case of John Holl’s book, he’s curating recipes from other sources and picking the best ones for you. I did notice that there are a number of recipes where the beers might be quite hard to find locally depending on what part of the country you’re in. This is, of course, something that provides some of the attraction for the set of recipes he has chosen. You would likely be able to make the food with a different beer and still have it feel like it was from a brewpub in San Diego or Kenosha or Butte. I don’t know that there is a cuisine specific to Butte, but it seems like ranching country.

There are a few recipes, though, where (I seem to remember) they talk about using a very specific product in the recipe that’s available at the brewpub or brewery’s website (it might have been a root beer bbq sauce.) I read it a couple of months ago, so I hope that I’m not misrepresenting it. I feel that if you can’t replicate the entire recipe given a couple hours of shopping, it’s probably not cricket. There’s no need to involve Fedex in a delicious meal.

Still, the ideas are good and the book is attractively presented and my quibbles as listed are relatively minor. It’s a good job of work.

In the case of Jacquelyn Dodd’s book, there are some quite good recipes. I quite like the look of the Porter, Goat Cheese and Portobello Mushroom Stuffed Pork Loin and I confess I’ll be trying the White Bean and Beer Chicken Chili just as soon as it gets to be slow cooker weather. IPA watermelon ceviche seems like a winner. Dodd has sidestepped the regionality issue in a craft beer cookbook by not suggesting specific brands of beer for each recipe, deciding rather to chip in periodically with “try this with a woody IPA” or “a malty stout with notes of chocolate and espresso.” That’s fine, although it can be hard to picture what a recipe would taste like without substituting in a beer of your choice mentally while reading. It’s preferable to the alternative where it specifies a beer you’ve never tasted and can’t lay hands on.

The only real problem I have is that a number of the recipes seem to involve straight volume substitutions of beer for another liquid. There’s a scratch made Cavatelli pasta that more or less substitutes beer for water or egg yolk. There are Corn Tortillas with regular Masa Harina, but instead of another liquid: beer. That’s fine as far as it goes, but why it’s happening isn’t really sufficiently explained. I feel like a number of the recipes would have benefitted from a little more conversation with the reader. I’d have gladly given up 20 of the 100 recipes for a better sense of purpose.

If you're like me and you have forgotten adequately to seal your brown sugar after last time you had oatmeal for breakfast, it is probably lumpy.

If you’re like me and you have forgotten adequately to seal your brown sugar after last time you had oatmeal for breakfast, it is probably lumpy.

Besides, I don’t really like straight volume replacement as a tool. I like it when there’s a flavourful beer getting used as a balanced ingredient in the equation. For that reason, I got the nice people over at Whitecap books to send over a .doc file that contains the recipe for the Smoky Maple Beer Nuts from the Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook. Google Chrome should let you open it in a separate tab. Let’s have a look at this and see how it works.

Although, it's only as lumpy as pictured after taking this fellow to the giant rock of brown sugar.

Although, it’s only as lumpy as pictured after taking this fellow to the giant rock of brown sugar.

This is about a two hour cooking process, but it’s probably only 15 minutes of actual work. A word on assembling ingredients for the recipe. If you’re going to go to the trouble of making your own beer nuts, you’re probably in for a pound. You can buy beer nuts for basically the price of whatever nut you purchase for this recipe. They probably won’t be as good and they certainly will not give you a sense of pride or the ability to make silly double entendre jokes. I chose to go with almonds because I like almonds, although there was a period where I stared questioningly at a bag of walnuts.

I'm relatively sure that good maple syrup is more expensive per ounce than whiskey at the LCBO.

I’m relatively sure that good maple syrup is more expensive per ounce than whiskey at the LCBO.

If you’re going to make this, you need real maple syrup. Don’t throw maple flavoured syrup on there. You might fool your guests, but deep down you’ll know. You’ll know and it will haunt you.

You've got to love the label.

You’ve got to love the label.

Actually, considering the size of the containers that maple syrup, cayenne pepper and Church Key Holy Smoke come in and the small amounts used in the recipe, the best thing to do is triple the recipe and buy about three pounds of almonds and spend an afternoon making a snack that you can put out when you’re entertaining throughout the holiday season.

It's not really adequately explained in the recipe, but toss the almonds in the wet ingredients then, once coated, add the dry ingredients and toss again. Pause briefly to marvel at the fact you own a whisk despite being unable to remember the purchase.

It’s not really adequately explained in the recipe, but toss the almonds in the wet ingredients then, once coated, add the dry ingredients and toss again. Pause briefly to marvel at the fact you own a whisk despite being unable to remember the purchase.

The reason I like this recipe is because Church Key Holy Smoke really does contain enough peat character to add to the final flavour of the beer nuts, but not quite enough to be recognizable as itself. You could probably bolster the smoke by adding a little paprika to the cayenne in the blended dry ingredients. As it stands, there’s just a hint of smoke and maple in the mixture. It’s clever because for he’s actually using the 20ml of beer as an additional spice that blends in with the cayenne.

Line a cookie sheet or baking tray with parchment paper. I was also shocked that I owned parchement paper. No measuring spoons, but parchment paper.

Line a cookie sheet or baking tray with parchment paper. I was also shocked that I owned parchment paper. No measuring spoons, but parchment paper.

A lot of the Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook recipes use beer in that fashion, and since that’s very much the way I think about beer and food, I’m excited about trying more of the recipes out. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about getting a cookbook since I got Rick Bayless’ comprehensive Mexican one.

When the nuts are done, you want to put them on a plate to cool. For the love of god, don't go putting the hot salty nuts directly into your mouth. You will burn the dickens out of the roof of your mouth. Also, probably don't go grabbing them barehanded for the first twenty minutes after they come out of the oven.

When the nuts are done, you want to put them on a plate to cool. For the love of god, don’t go putting the hot salty nuts directly into your mouth. You will burn the dickens out of the roof of your mouth. Also, probably don’t go grabbing them barehanded for the first twenty minutes after they come out of the oven.

Beer and Food: Linda Modern Thai

As a beer writer, I only get invited to events at restaurants infrequently. When I get an email suggesting that I should go to a dinner hosted by Thailand’s ambassador to Canada, it’s something of a rarity. This is an important governmental figure from another country. It would be downright gauche to refuse.

Brewed by appointment. It's nice to know there's a schedule.

Brewed by appointment. It’s nice to know there’s a schedule.

The reason for the event is due to a new program called Thai Select. The idea here is that the program certifies the authenticity of the food being served and allows the customer a degree of certainty when choosing a restaurant. Essentially, better than 60 percent of the items on the menu are meant to be authentic Thai dishes using cooking methods like you’d find in Thailand. There are two groups: Select and Select Premium. This is more or less delineated upon the quality of the food, décor and experience.

Linda Modern Thai in The Shops at Don Mills was the first restaurant in Canada to receive the Select Premium designation, so it’s fitting that the dinner expanding awareness of the program should be held there.

A rather nicely arranged collection of ingredients on the red carpet. Did I mention the red carpet? Yeah, there was a red carpet. I feel all special.

A rather nicely arranged collection of ingredients on the red carpet. Did I mention the red carpet? Yeah, there was a red carpet. I feel all special.

That said, I’m not really a restaurant critic. I’m a beer writer. Fortunately, a representative from Singha was on hand to provide me some explanation of the brand and, y’know, a method of appearing legitimately involved in the proceedings. I’m all for turning up and eating a lot of really high quality Thai food and not contributing anything, but I always feel like I should pull my weight.

It turns out that Singha is more interesting than I would have originally thought. We’re spoilt in North America by the beer cultures that we’ve inherited from Europe. In other parts of the world, one of the things that tended to happen was that European colonial powers in the 19th century would plant a flag and set up services to their benefit. Sometimes, these were breweries. Look at Mexico and Dos Equis. Why in the world, you should probably ask, is a Vienna Lager a widespread quantity? The brief Hapsburg experiment. That’s why. Look at Japan, whose brewing industry is more or less directly influenced by Dutch sailors setting up a beer hall in the 17th century.

Usually what happens when you’ve got cultures that don’t have the depth of brewing tradition you find in Europe is that they set up beers based loosely on whatever beer the colonial power that landed on their shores was brewing. It’s sort of a question of cultural imperialism. These beers are transplants that don’t really have anything to do with the local food culture. They’re usually light and refreshing and people enjoy them. Folks like a cold beer no matter where you are.

In the case of Singha, there’s not really any such causation. In point of fact, Thailand didn’t have much in the way of beer until Singha opened in 1933. That’s a late entry to the game, incidentally. That’s the same year they repealed the Volstead Act in the States, for those of you trying to place it. The really interesting thing is that they chose to brew this style of beer. The founder of the brewery was a friend of the King and the brewery was endorsed by the monarch. The founder went to Germany and learned how to brew beer and came back and set up a brewery. That’s a fairly unique circumstance.

Say you had a country. You don’t have any breweries, but you’re starting to think “you know, I could go for a tall, cold… something.” You get to choose from any beer in the world, and at this point you might look to the United States for your model. You’d maybe make something like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. There’s a lot of choice. In 1933, though, there weren’t breweries in the US. If you wanted to learn to brew, you went to Germany. As a result, Singha is an all barley German lager. As lagers that I’ve had from that part of the world go, it’s really pretty good. You’ve got some light grain on the nose and there’s a slightly sour finish. It’s a Euro-style Lager.

That said, as a beer for pairing with Thai food, it has one trick. People will tell you that you’ve got three options with food pairing: Complement, Cut and Contrast. What Singha manages to do is cut and it does it well. It resets the palate for the next mouthful.IMAG0037 IMAG0039

If you look at the first course, the dish that stood out for me was the Chicken and Shrimp Larb. It’s essentially a lettuce wrap with cashews, vermicelli, water chestnuts and nam prik pao. The point of the dish is that it’s customizable. You’ve got a tray of condiments with shallots, lime, peanuts, dried shrimp, toasted coconut and some pretty diabolical little chilies. Think for a moment about the amount of thought that you’d need to put in in order to complement or contrast those. It’s rendered more or less impossible by the number of ingredients and the fact that each mouthful is going to be rendered slightly different by the taste of each diner. Cutting those flavours for reset is really all you can hope for from any beer in this situation.

Lobster Bisque.

Lobster Bisque.

I’m going to step away from that train of thought for a moment for the next course, which in my case was the Thai Lobster Bisque. Now, I’m given to understand that this is something of a house speciality, and because of that I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by the depth of flavour here. The description says “made with lots and lots and lots of lobsters, a bit of butter and Thai herbs.” They are not kidding around about the lobsters. One of the aromas you get from the bisque is actually chitinous lobster shell, which you might think would be off-putting, but the depth of the flavour is marvelous; the mellow roundness of it. The elegant richness. The bisque is so densely packed with flavour that the cilantro garnish doesn’t make any impact until you get a mouthful. On a scale of one to ten, it put a David Gilmour song in my head.

The main course was served family style and comprised five dishes. It occurs to me that you could probably have paired a beer with any one of these single dishes. The Crispy Beef Panang could possibly do with an Ommegang Hennepin. The Stewed Duck with Chestnuts could possibly have done with a fruity Belgian Dubbel (Black Oak’s version of this would work well here). The issue, really, is that family style service makes that more or less impossible since you’re trying a small amount of each dish. Again, Singha works nicely here by simply reframing each new bite. To be fair, it’s probably more fun that way since everyone at the table is experiencing it in the same way.

Fantastically rich, really.

Fantastically rich, really.

A really pleasant piece of attention to detail on the Pineapple Yellow Curry.

A really pleasant piece of attention to detail on the Pineapple Yellow Curry.

Pineapple tureen. More fragrant than a regular tureen.

Pineapple tureen. More fragrant than a regular tureen.

I like to think about cuisines that don’t have traditional beer cultures. I like to break down the ingredients and figure out which terpenes they’re like to contain and then cross reference that with hops varieties and theorize about which styles might work with the dish. I’m sure that I’ll continue to do that since it’s fascinating and I’m relatively sure that I’ll see some of the theory borne out as craft beer makes its way to different countries over the next dozen or so years. This experience with Singha is a solid reminder that like the Chicken and Shrimp Larb, it all depends on individual taste.