YARDLEY, Pa., August 20, 2012 — Did the title of this article have you recoiling in disgust or anxiously clicking for more information? As beer drinkers make their way through a vast cornucopia of flavors and aromas, chances are greater than ever that one of the tasting paths will lead to sour beers.
An approach to beer that largely has its roots in Europe, specifically Belgium, sour, or “wild”, beer is being produced more in the U.S. than ever before, opening up the possibilities for exploring the unique characteristics either on their own or paired with food.
The Yardley Inn has presented a handful of special beer and food pairing dinners since Executive Chef Eben Copple arrived nearly five years ago. The recent five-course pairing with beers from Russian River Brewing Company likely was one of the most ambitious to date.
(RRBC) and its owner, Vinnie Cilurzo, have been increasingly been producing some of the country’s most popular and most respected sour beers since 2004. Sour beers gain their distinctively sour and tart flavors primarily from the yeast and bacteria that many brewers and almost all vintners do everything in their power to control and prevent from entering their operations for fear of contamination. The wild yeast and bacteria can either be introduced from wood barrels that the beer sits in for a prescribed amount of time or in a more controlled fashion by pitching a known amount of the lab-selected yeast or bacteria into the beer.
What Cilurzo — and a growing number of other brewers to be fair — has learned from the wild ride is that when allowed to do its work, the yeast and bacteria that so many brewers are fearful of can create an amazingly complex beer of great depth that pairs magnificently at the dinner table.
We will come back for a more in-depth look at sour beers in a future column.
For the dinner at The Yardley Inn, Chef Copple enlisted the help of good friend and teacher Colin Marsh to execute the dinner. Marsh has nearly 30 years of experience under his belt in numerous aspects of the food service industry and teaches at the Bucks County Technical High School. He and Copple were set up on the restaurant patio to prepare each course of the meal for the approximately forty attendees.
The meal began with two non-sour beers to help step the guests gently into the waters. The first course presented roasted peppers from the restaurant’s herb and vegetable garden, which sits across the street and along the banks of the Delaware River. The peppers were spiced with coriander seed, that when paired with the mild flavored and low alcohol (4.8% ABV) RRBC Redemption blonde ale, created quite the awakening for the palate.
The first course featured a beer that allowed the food to stand up and take notice. In the second course, the meaty and mild oysters played the background role to the strong golden ale, its fruit-forward makeup, and the 7.0% ABV content. Damnation from RRBC was paired with the second course of grilled oysters simply done with herbs and oil.
The duck potpie in the third course featured a nectarine component that delivered its own tart flavor alongside of the RRBC Sanctification. It was a pairing that made even more sense when the savory and rich meatiness of the duck meat met the dry funkiness of the beer that created what was arguably the best pairing of the evening.
While the oysters were grilling up top and being finished for the second course, all along the whole suckling pig had been underneath in the pig roast box. When it came time to prepare the roasted pig for the fourth course, Copple picked apart the tender meat with ease, mounded it upon smoked baked beans, garnishing with fresh horseradish and blackberry marmalade.
Here was a course in which Chef Copple was clearly going for complimentary flavors as the blackberry fruit paired up nicely with the fruit-forward nature of the RRBC Supplication, a pinot noir barrel-aged beer big on sour cherry and oak flavors. The crisped pigskin served as both a nice finishing touch atop the plate as well as a tasty side treat.
Fans of RRBC Consecration likely have never encountered a pairing adversary that stood up as strongly to and dominated the black currant-based and tart beer as did the closing course of the beer dinner at The Yardley Inn. Citric acid coated smoked prune chocolates. Take a minute to read each word again and think about all of the bold flavors in the simple little 3/4-inch diameter dessert. That should help to illustrate the intense, but yet strangely enjoyable for some, blast of mouth-puckering tartness that the chocolate treat delivered in its successful attempt to relegate the beer to a diminutive role. By playing this role, though, and canceling out the hallmark fruit tartness and funkiness of the Consecration, the malt flavor played the dominant role in the glass, at least to the perception of the taster.
Similar to Yardley, there are numerous quaint and charming riverside towns along the banks of the Delaware River, like Washington Crossing just minutes to the north, that make for both excellent living and visiting. Being positioned roughly sixty miles from Manhattan and thirty miles from Philadelphia’s Center City, establishments like The Yardley Inn also make for tasty reasons to visit.
–Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington Times.
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