Fall is here, and one of the most important yearly events to kick off the season is Oktoberfest, the two-week long festival of beer, food, music, and Bavarian culture in Munich. Of course, such an event is too good to stay contained in just one city, so Oktoberfest celebrations take place worldwide. The Seelbach got in on the action this past Saturday with their first Oktoberfest Beer vs. Wine dinner.
Except that there was one little anomaly: the event was advertised as a way for attendees to explore pairings of food with wine and beer, two competing worlds that can actually go hand-in-hand. Imagine my confusion, then, at the total absence of wine available. Perhaps the specifics of the event were changed last-minute – I don’t know. I don’t mean this as a criticism; I love beer, and the Oktoberfest theme suited me just fine. However, I can see how some may have been a bit perturbed if they had come expecting wine.
The event was held in the Seelbach’s Rathskellar Hall, chosen for its resemblance to a German Hofbräuhaus. I could only think of one word for this room, with its arches and columns adorned with classical stone carvings: epic. A large communal table sat in the middle of the room, while German music (largely of the polka and accordion variety) pumped out of speakers at one end of the hall.
The beer table stood at the other end of the hall. We had received six tickets, each good for a three-ounce beer sample. The five beers selected all came from the Goose Island line of Belgian-style ales. Five food tables stood around the hall, each with a card indicating which beer was chosen as a pairing.
Because I know something about beer (and because I am admittedly pretentious enough on the subject to care) I decided to start with the lightest beer and work my way up, so as not to overwhelm my palate. This meant the Sophie: a wheat ale aged in wine barrels containing orange peel and fermented with wild yeasts. It tasted light and smooth, but with a little more dryness and tartness than I have come to expect from wheat ales. The card that came along with it describes it as “an intriguing choice for Champagne drinkers,” and that seems fairly accurate to me.
The suggested pairing for Sophie was cabbage wrapped around sweet sausage, served with what looked like mushrooms, but turned out to be almonds and walnuts in a sweet, almost syrupy, marinade. Soft and tender, the sweet-saltiness of the sausage brought out the dryness in the beer, enhancing the Champagne-y qualities.
The Fleur is a pale ale that is unlike any I’ve had before. I’m used to a very dry and overwhelming hoppiness, whereas the Fleur focuses more on its floral qualities, especially hibiscus, while its definitely present hop character stays in the background. My accompanying friend, who is adamantly opposed to pale ales in general, declared this her favorite of the night.
For the pairing: more sausage and cabbage! (It was, after all, a German-themed meal.) This sausage came in links, smothered in chopped cabbage and a very tomato-y barbecue sauce. The food served to mask some of the floral qualities and bring the hoppiness more to the forefront – a not unpleasant transformation.
Matilda hits the palate with great satisfaction. It starts with a dry maltiness, but leaves an aftertaste of fruit and yeast. I found this food pairing of spätzle to be perhaps the more effective, as the herbs and saltiness in the noodles brought out the fruit notes beautifully.
The Pere Jacques is described on Goose Island’s website as having been “brewed with loads of malt and Belgian yeast.” “Loads” of malt is an understatement, I think; this beer was almost syrupy in its sweetness. It is also described as the “perfect alternative to a glass of port,” the dessert wine famous for its heavy sweetness. This beer paired with pretzels and beer cheese. The cheese was delicious and creamy, although no one seemed to know what kind of beer was used in it. The saltiness enhanced the sweetness even more, but at the same time it accentuated the carbonation, which served to complement the malt flavor.
The final beer, and my ultimate favorite, was the Pepe Nero – a dark, very nearly black, ale which is brewed with peppercorns! I had never heard of such a thing, and the effect was quite curious: the spiciness was definitely detectable under the roasty earthiness, but not at all overwhelming. I don’t know that this beer was actually intended to pair with the final food item: a small apple tart which was wisely not overly sweetened, allowing the apple to speak for itself.
Happily full of food, I spent my last two tickets (my friend had given me her last one) on a double-shot of the Pepe Nero.
These beers can be found at many local alcohol outlets, including Liquor Barn, Valu-Market, and the Louisville Beer Store.
Photo courtesy of the event Facebook page.