Napa Valley’s First Beer vs. Wine Throwdown, Part 2

By Ashley Routson

We’re back for the second, and most important part of this post, the pairings and the winner of the first ever beer vs. wine dinner in Napa Valley! If you missed yesterday’s introduction, check out Part 1 for all the details.

The Dinner

The dinner consisted of the following courses and pairings. I chose the beer pairings, and the wine pairings were chosen by Bistro Jeanty’s General Manager, Kelly Mitchell-Jacks. Mitchell-Jacks has been with Bistro Jeanty for nearly seven years, and has learned about wine on the job while working in various positions in the restaurant business in both Napa Valley and San Francisco.

Fried SmeltPairing I

Fried Smelt with Spicy Aioli (Eperlans Frits)

Wine: Schramsberg, Blanc de Blancs 2005

Beer: Lagunitas Brewing Company Czech Pilsner

Winner: wine

Pairing Details

For the fried smelt with spicy aioli, I chose Lagunitas Czech Pilsner. I wanted something crisp with pale malts and low-alpha acid hops that wouldn’t overpower the delicate flavors of the fish, but that would still cut through the spice in the aioli and the oil in the fry. Unfortunately, my beer was up against Schramsberg Blanc de Blacs. This winery is arguably one of the best American producers of sparkling wine. Honestly, I think that the diners who voted for the wine on this course actually voted for the product, not necessarily the pairings. But then, that is only my opinion. Beer lost by only one vote, with an odd number of participants. Most agreed to count this as a tie.

Truffled Salami SaladPairing II

Truffled Salami Salad with beets, Humboldt Fog cheese and truffle vinaigrette

Wine: Miner Family Pinot Noir 2008

Beer: Russian River Brewing Company Sanctification

Winner: wine

Pairing Details

I definitely went a little crazy with the salad course, really challenging the guests to step outside the box. I wanted to complement the earthiness of the truffles and the pungency of the blue cheese with a “brett” beer that yielded funky, barnyard esters, to compliment the acidity of the vinaigrette, and cut the fattiness of the salami and cheese. The first style that came to mind was a Gueuze—a funky, highly attenuated sour style from Belgium. But, I really wanted to stick to my California craft beer theme, which is why I turned to the king of American sours, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company, who was kind enough to provide us with bottles of Sanctification from his private collection. Beer may have lost the pairing, but tasting it was definitely a highlight of the evening for most of the guests.

“The elegant layering of flavors on the Truffled Salami Salad was a testament to the care and precision put into the entire dinner,” said Delina Dysart, event guest. “I loved the way the bright flavors of the Miner Family Pinot played against the creamy Humboldt Fog cheese. However, the highlight for me was the truffle vinaigrette and its interaction on my palate with the Russian River Sanctification. I have a weak spot for truffled anything, but the brett-filled flavors of the beer gave the vinaigrette an extra kick that I never saw coming—loved it!”

Choucroute GarnParing III

Choucroute Garni (braised sauerkraut) with smoked pork loin, beer sausage, bacon & ham

Wine: W. Gisselbrecht Pinot Blanc 2008

Beer: The Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale

Winner: beer

Pairing Details

The main course was arguably the most exciting of the evening. Well, at least from the beer perspective. The Choucroute Garnie consisted of 4 different types of pork products—bacon, beer sausage, ham and pork loin—served over wine braised sauerkraut with roasted potatoes. I choose to pair this Alsatian course with The Lost Abbey’s Red Barn Ale, a Farmhouse Ale, lightly spiced with organic ginger, orange peels, black pepper and grains of paradise. In my opinion, the Saison is the most food friendly style of beer, especially with lighter meats (such as pork) and fatty, richer dishes. My assumption proved true in this scenario, as beer took the crown for the main course.

Pairing IV

Crispy Chocolate Bar, hazelnut chocolate crunch and dark chocolate mousse with a raspberry sauce

Wine: M. Chapoutier Banyuls 2007

Beer: North Coast Brewing Company Old Rasputin

Winner: wine

Pairing Details

Dessert was the toughest challenge for beer. Kelly brought out the big guns—the M. Chapoutier 2007 Banyuls, which in itself impressed the guests, and beer lost even before the pairing hit the table. Since the dish was rich and chocolatey, I opted for a big, rich, Imperial Russian Stout. And one cannot go wrong with Old Rasputin, enough said. Although wine was almost unanimous, there was at least one, if not two, votes for beer. This gives me a glimmer of hope.

Final Thoughts

Even though, according to votes, beer technically lost the competition, I still consider the event to be a mini-victory for craft beer on the broader scope. I successfully introduced and educated a group of people to new styles and new brands of craft beer. This dinner was one small step for wine country; one giant leap for the craft beer industry. Wine may have won this time around, but mark my words; beer will find its rightful place on the dinner table in wine country. And I’m on a mission to make it happen.

Throughout the entire evening, all the guests repeatedly thanked Kelly and I for organizing the event, and all expressed interest in attending another beer vs. wine dinner.

Ashley RoutsonAshley V. Routson, known amongst the craft beer community as The Beer Wench, is a self-proclaimed craft beer evangelist and social media puppeteer on a mission to advance the craft beer industry through education, inspiration and advocacy. When she is not preoccupied with the craft beer revolution or her addiction to the Internet, Ashley enjoys cooking, artisan spirits, boutique wines, fine cigars, and college football (she bleeds Scarlet and Gray for The Ohio State University). You can find her musings at Drink With The Wench, or @TheBeerWench on Twitter.