Cicerone™ vs. Sommelier Dinner Results

By Julia Herz

Ok everyone, I’m back to report on the menu and outcome of my Cicerone™ vs. Sommelier dinner at Lyons Fork Restaurant in Lyons, Colorado. I admit it; it’s good to have a reality check every now and then while on this craft beer crusade of mine. And I gotta say, on February 17, my bubble was officially burst—big time—when craft beer lost to wine in a five course pairing dinner contest.

Mark my words; give craft brewers a few years, and the next generation of culinary professionals and hobbyists will fully understand and champion what craft brewed beer does when paired with food compared to wine.

So here’s how things went down. Five courses were served with a craft beer and a wine. After tasting each course, the audience voted for their favorite pairing. To me, the final votes reflected the palates in the room, and their personal preferences. It could not have been a matter of the presentation (which was world class) or, I maintain, the beverage selections. Just scan the pairings, and if you’re a craft beer fan, you’ll know what I mean. The people spoke, and on this night, wine took the win. But, craft beer still gained enough votes to prove that progress is being made.

During the meal, the craft beer pairings interacted for the most part how I wanted and expected them to. We were not able to sample the pairings with the dishes beforehand, so they were conceptually based decisions made on instinct and gut feel. For the most part, each course both complemented, contrasted, and cut with the beers served. The wine mostly contrasted, and to a lesser extent, sometimes complemented. In two cases, I actually felt the wines chosen clashed with the dishes—the veal course and dessert. Then again, I’m biased, so take my opinions with a grain of salt or a chaser of porter. Your choice.

At the beginning of the meal, I asked all those who considered themselves to be into wine to raise their hands. Every hand in the room appeared to be up. Then I asked those who were into craft beer to raise their hands. I was pleased to see around 75 percent of the diners hands raised, with fewer still who said they were into spirits. Thus, confirmed as I thought, we were serving more of a wine crowd than a craft beer crowd.

Interestingly enough, research confirms that about 2/3 of today’s fermented beverage lovers are cross drinkers. Cross drinkers is pet term for those who enjoy all three fermented beverage categories, including spirits.

Cicerone vs. Sommelier Dinner Menu

Course One

Tempura Tuna, Ponzu Sauce, Avocado
Beer: Left Hand Brewing Company, Polestar Pilsner
Wine: St-Meyland, Brut
Winner: Wine

Course Two

Lamb Carpaccio, Parmesan Tuiles, Arugula Microgreens, Lemon Truffle Oil
Beer: The Lost Abbey, Avant Garde
Wine: Babcock Winery & Vineyards, Identity Crisis Syrah
Winner: Craft Beer

Course Three

Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Charred Pineapple, Grapefruit, Watercress
Beer: Asher Brewing Company, Green Bullet IPA
Wine: Annabella, Napa Valley Chardonnay
Winner: Wine

Course Four

Herb Rubbed Veal Loin, House Spaetzle, Braised Red Cabbage, Veal Reduction
Beer: Russian River Brewing Company, Damnation
Wine: The Rhone Gang, Hold Up #7
Winner: Wine

Course Five

Pistachio Praline Semifreddo, Warm Truffle Cake, Candied Beet
Beer: Rogue Ales, Shakespeare Stout
Wine: Porto Pocas, Special Reserve Tawny Port
Winner: Wine

Special thanks to Executive Chef Todd Garston, Chef de Cuisine Ian Rubenoff, Debbie and Wayne Anderson, owners of Lyons Fork, and especially Ed Daly, resident Sommelier at Elite Brands. He won the room, and the dinner, fair and square. Look out Ed, the times they are a changin’!

Also to note, we had previously touted this as the first-ever Cicerone™ vs. Sommelier dinner. After some initial research, I felt confident to state this. However, I have been corrected since my original post. Michael Agnew, Certified Cicerone of A Perfect Pint, went head to head with Sommelier Leslee Miller in January 2011. Check out their approach for this worthy contest, which I hope will be repeated again and again.

Cheers to wine, cheers to craft beer, and cheers to the chance to be a contender at the dinner table!

Julia Herz is the Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, co-author of the free Beer & Food Course, as well co-author of Beer Pairing (Voyageur Press). She is a life-long homebrewer, BJCP beer judge and Certified Cicerone®. Despite her extensive experience, she will always consider herself a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer.

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