Now that we’re past the unpleasantness of that title, I’ll infotain you. Recently, I went to Taps Beer Bar for their first ever cider and food pairing event. It was a good evening for cider, too: rainy and relatively cool, but still warm enough that the imperial stout I had while waiting for the event to start seemed to catch in my throat. We would be having four ciders from three different breweries, and they would be paired with four dishes chosen by the MC.
So, without further ado…
The first course was a pineapple-and-mango-infused cider by Australia’s Wild Cider brewery, paired with a three-part salad of smoked salmon with a coconut-lime dressing, a roasted tomato in a tart shell with feta over a bed of caramelized onions, and a simple pear-and-greens salad. The roasted tomato tart was excellently prepared and was fun to eat. The smokiness of the tomato, saltiness of the cheese, and sweetness of the onions blended nicely. The salmon was much the same–salty, sweet, and smoky–and the lack of sensational differentiation made it seem a bit bland. The pear and greens were quite good, and light, and was a good pairing choice for the cider.
The cider itself was quite a bit sweeter than one might expect from a first course pairing. On its own, it is quite good. I mean, it’s pretty hard to screw up pineapple and mango. It was like drinking a less alcoholic mai tai–not exactly in the spirit of cider, but still tasty. Paired with the saltier items, which already had a sweet component added, the sweetness of the pineapple and mango seemed a bit redundant. Overall, however, this was a pretty good first course.
Next was the Two Step Apple Cider by Australia’s Mountain Goat Beer. (Alright, so all of these breweries are Australian. You’re not really going to find many apples from Malaysia.) Paired with it was the seared quail on top of a salad of pears and greens and a peppercorn dressing. The quail itself was cooked well, and there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about as far as taste and execution were concerned.
For a second course, however, it felt disjointed, and the pairing was odd. The Two Step cider was good on its own. My companions complained that it barely had any taste and was closer to carbonated water than cider, but I found it to be light and subtly sweet when paired with the meat. The problem was that, instead of a real main course, we were given a second salad. A better pairing for this dish would have been the Gypsy Pear Cider. More about the specifics of the pear cider later, but the Two Step was far too light for a main course pairing, especially with a roasted meat. The pear cider, by contrast, was bold enough to carry the quail and light enough to avoid tainting the salad. The Two Step would have been better paired with the third course.
Course three was another entry from Wild Cider, an extraordinarily sweet cider made with strawberries and vanilla. The MC warned us that it might taste overly sweet or medicinal, and he was not wrong. The sweetness was overpowering and felt almost syrupy at times. Paired with the pear and raspberry crumble, which was also tooth-achingly sweet, the cider was supposed to taste much more mild, or so we were told. In a sense, yes, compared to the crumble, it did seem somewhat more subdued, but it still made our teeth sing. I have tasted dessert wines, ports, sherries, cordials, schnapps, and had the poor taste to drink straight Pucker, and only the latter brings to mind the level of sweetness I found in this pairing.
Paired beverages should compliment the dish served, not necessarily turn it up to eleven. In this case, we had one extremely potent item with another, and the only thing they could do was build sweetness. The berry flavor of the crumble mixed with that of the cider to create a larger berry flavor, but one that was almost completely drowned out by the sugar. In the end, there was no complexity of texture or flavor, just overload. The better pairing, I feel, might have been with the Two Step. The lightness and dryness of that cider would have mellowed some of the crumble’s intense sweetness. There were apparently pears in that dessert, but the reduced berry juices were more like a syrup. If they could have been diluted by a lighter beverage, the taste of the pears may have come out.
The last course. Wait. What? More dessert?! Far be it for me to complain, but this is why we needed a real main course. If I’m going to be treated to two sweet courses, I need something a little more substantial than two salads as a buffer.
Anyway, this course was the Gypsy Pear Cider from 2 Brothers Brewery, paired with Fete Artisan Pear Marshmallows. That’s right. Artisan marshmallows. My companions poo-pooed the marshmallows for the most part, but I thought they were actually quite good–and most importantly, they actually tasted like pear. And when they were roasted over flames, they tasted like roasted pears. Mission accomplished. “Artisan,” though? Let’s talk artisan when they get one that tastes like scotch, la?
(Brief aside: I have a video of our French companion telling a story about how in France they don’t “do” marshmallows, but instead wrap a wheel of camembert in foil and throw it on the grill. I’m not including it, though, partially because I’m not ready to pay $10 a month to upload any occasional video I might have, and because I was kind of a dick to him about it–even though grilled cheese is delicious 100% of the time–and that part’s in the video, too. It’s my party and I can not upload self-incriminating video if I don’t want to.)
While I thought the marshmallows were pretty good, having them after the crumble was a bit much. One dessert, folks. One. Also, the pear cider pairing seemed a bit repetitive, like they were worried that the marshmallows might not taste enough like pear. Thinking of any of the other ciders I’d want to swap out for this one, though, I can’t decide without repeating.
Also, what was with the pears tonight?
Bonus Round: Beer!
I do remember trying an excellent brew by Norway’s Nøgne Ø brewery. (I finally got to use a o-slash thingy in a sentence, and I got a twofer! And here it comes again!) Nøgne Ø’s Saison was excellent–light, a little fruity, and spiced well–and I highly recommend it as a summer brew, if you can find it.
The last one of the night was an interesting specimen from Japan. Hitachino Nest‘s Red Rice Ale not only was a refreshing take on an Irish red, but also has a kick-ass label. I mean, look at it. It’s fantastic. The beer itself is, as its name implies, made with red rice, and so has a distinctly rice-y flavor, but not one that overwhelms the palate. If I could find a place to buy this in bulk, I’d be a happy camper.
For New Englanders in Malaysia, I did see a sign for Magic Hat, so if you’re homesick, you now know where you can grab a #9. Just don’t put any cigarettes out on anyone. That’s not OK here.