The marriage of food and beer is synergistic. It opens the door to creativity on the chopping block. Multicourse dinners featuring a single brewery's curated selection of beers have been popular nationwide for years; locally, these half-liquid collaborations are taking place about once a month at Whole Foods Market in Mandarin. (Pre-sale tickets, ranging from $35-$40, include all of your food and beer.)
At the most recent dinner, Kristine Day from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Whole Foods' Rachel Deremer hosted a five-course pairing that included diverse beer selections: Sierra's robust Bigfoot Barleywine, slightly tart Brux ale, wheat Kellerweis, hoppy Ruthless Rye IPA and a collaboration ale, Ovila Abbey Quad, as well as a welcoming simple pale ale served upon arrival. All were hearty pours, and you got a logo-emblazoned keepsake pint glass.
After we were seated, Day gave an overview of Sierra Nevada and the company's history, and explained the brewing process and various components that comprise beer. For show-and-tell, a jar of Cascade finishing hops was passed from table to table.
With a warm welcome and pair of manchego cheese-stuffed prosciutto-wrapped medjool dates that were all things savory, salty and sweet, the evening took off with a pour of the deeply hued Bigfoot Barleywine. Strong, and boldly flavored, it clocked in at a hefty 9.6 percent alcohol content.
Selecting the right beer to complement a dish is like winning the food lottery. Generally speaking, beer's carbonation helps to rid the tongue of fat, readying it for the next forkful. Hop-forward beers work well with fattier foods, helping to counterbalance rich sauces and lessening the dense feeling in your mouth. Malt-forward beers are better for spicy foods, as the malt's subtle sweetness tames the heat.
Following a bouillabaisse swimming with shrimp and mussels — paired with a copper-colored American wild ale called Brux — came a simple palate cleanser, a light mix of shredded cabbage tossed with blood orange, pomegranate arils, Clementine segments and cilantro, and dressed with a ginger citrus vinaigrette. This was matched with Kellerweis, a wheat ale brewed with Hefeweizen ale yeast. None of the flavors overpowered another.
For the main course? A generous plate of smoked beef tenderloin with roasted potatoes and carrots, served with the hoppy Ruthless IPA, a somewhat spicy IPA with notes of fruit, citrus and herbs.
The dessert course (so perfect!) featured a dense roast cherry and spiced cardamom cake with creamy pistachio gelato, offset by the rich sweetness of the 10.2 percent Ovila Abbey quad — a heady beer with aromas of caramel, rich malt and dark fruit. Counterintuitively, perhaps, the beer's sweetness helped lessen the dessert's sweetness, enhancing instead of outshining it.
If you're wondering how it all comes together, Deremer says that after she gets a list of the evening's featured beers, she brainstorms with other chefs from the store's prepared foods department. "We study the descriptions and flavor profiles for each beer and decide on a complementary dish for each beer selection," Deremer explains. After developing the recipes, the chefs prepare and test most of the items beforehand to ensure the flavors really do pair well with the brews.
The once-monthly (except during the holidays) dinners, held on a Thursday, are capped at about 20 attendees and typically sell out in advance. Go to wholefoodsmarket.com for details.