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Belgian beer dinner

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Tom Gardner talks about Brasserie d'Achouffe at Grinders

A week ago, I had the pleasure of a beer dinner at Grinders. Beginning this year, this great beer place has been presenting dinners featuring beers from different breweries. I had intended to go in October, for the New Belgium dinner—but other circumstances prevented me from keeping my reservation. The folks there were gracious enough to put me down for the November meal—and I looked forward to the pairings with beers from Brasserie d’Achouffe. First, I’d say that if you are a beer enthusiast, and haven’t been to Grinders—get down there! It’s on the eastern edge of the Crossroads, on 18th Street. I’ve enjoyed lunches there with their great beer selection; in warmer weather it’s nice to sit on the patio in back. Grinders is a funky little place (there’s a more upscale Grinders West next door). The seating for this beer dinner was in the back, near the patio door; four tables with about 18 people.

Our host was Tom Gardner of Chicago, representing the brewery and also Duvel. Four courses, on small plates, were presented. One improvement I would have made would be to present the beers in a goblet-shaped glass—we were served our beers in a straight-sided glass. Belgians are serious about glassware selection; each brewery develops their trademark shape with logo (I have a collection ofLa Chouffe goblet several). Actually, at the end of the evening we were each given a La Chouffe goblet—how much nicer if this had been used with the meal! Paper plates were also used—but having served a beer dinner with several courses makes for a lot of dishwashing unless disposables are used; I could understand this practicality.

Tom shared the history of the d’Achouffe brewery—begun in 1982 by two brothers in a very small Belgian town. The first course featured Houblon Chouffe; a Belgian pale ale. This beer includes American hops (Amarillo, and Tomahawk); the style was a Belgian triple that was hopped like an American IPA. I asked, and Tom told us that this beer scores 62 International Bitterness Units (IBUs). It is actually an American-Belgo beer. This a new trend in beer styles; it was added as a new category at the Great American Beer Festival and one of the categories that I had the privilege of judging this year. Houblon Chouffe was first brewed in 2004. I enjoyed their paring with a Caesar salad.

The second course featured the flagship beer, La Chouffe. This is a fruity blonde beer, including coriander and a lighter amount of hops. Tom explained the bottle conditioning as a traditional Belgian practice; allowing a secondary fermentation in the bottle—contributing to the long shelf-life of Belgian beers. This beer paired nicely with a rosemary roasted pork tenderloin over sautéed spinach, fennel, and cherry tomatoes.

The pouring for the third course was Mc Chouffe—an unfiltered dark beer with a fruity flavor partly created by the use of carmelized sugar. This paired nicely with braised beef tips, carmelized leeks and delicious figs over egg noodles. Tom explained that this beer’s roots could be traced to the occupation of Belgium by Scottish troops during WWII; the Belgian brewers developed beers for them that were reminiscent of Scottish-styled beers.

The fourth course introduced us to an interesting Belgian dark strong ale, called N’ice Chouffe. N'ice Chouffe with risottoEspecially delightful was the subtle addition of thyme and curacao flavors in this beer. This is brand new to the Missouri market; I’ll be in search of it at my neighborhood beer store! A natural pairing with this beer was a creamy thyme-scented vegetable risotto. This was my favorite pairing of the evening!

The dessert course was introduced by the MoBev Distributor. The beer highlighted for our conclusion was from a small brewery in northern France (just south of Belgium), called La Choulette. This beer was a biere de garde; “beer for keeping”. It is similar to the Belgian saison beers. This version of the brewery’s beer was created by brewer Alain Dhaussy with pure raspberry juice. The beer was only slightly sweet, with a light roasty malt character—and the spicy yeast flavor. I heard someone remark of its similarity to “tootsie rolls”. This was a wonderful accompaniment to a chocolate ganache with cherries.

We were introduced to the chef who chose the food pairings, and we applauded her. It was a wonderful evening of conviviality!

In the style guidelines for the Beer Judge Certification Program, there are 15 different Belgian styles; however, Belgian brewers like to be creative and don’t follow strict brewing regimens like the Germans do. If you have friends that are new to the world of beers, Belgian beers seem to appeal to wine drinkers. And, Belgian beers pair wonderfully with a wide variety of foods. If you'd like to learn more about Belgian beers, one excellent book is by the late beer authority, Michael Jackson, "The Great Beers of Belgium." Pick up a good Belgian beer and share it with a friend!

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