Belgian and American Beers Square Off

Bob Barnes - It's Belgian versus Belgian-style at an epic beer pairing dinner.

Renowned beer expert Stephen Beaumont showing up in Las Vegas to host a Belgian-inspired beer pairing dinner was incentive enough to draw in several of the city’s most avid beer fans, as well as those involved in the beer biz in the bourgeoning beer scene of Las Vegas, including a whole table of cicerones. Stephen is recognized as one of the leading writers on beer in the world and over the past 24 years has been published in countless magazines and has authored, co-authored and contributed on a dozen books, including The World Atlas of Beer (co-authored with Tim Webb).

The site was Fleur at Mandalay Bay, a brilliant choice, as this Vegas Strip resort has Sarah Johnson as its Director of Food & Beverage, Nevada’s first female Certified Cicerone. The pairing dinner was to be a comparison of Belgian vs. Belgian-style brews from American breweries, with each course accompanied by one beer from each country to, as Stephen said, “try them against each other to find interesting contrasts and parallels.” Stephen went on to pose the question, “Has the student (US) surpassed the master (Belgium)?” and added, “Four years ago I would have said yes, but now I’m not so sure. Belgium is now experiencing a Renaissance, a brewery explosion; and other countries like China and Spain are taking off in craft beer.”

We were off and running with our first course: Terrine au Cochon, a head to tail pork terrine paired with the 6% Belgian De la Senne Zinnebir and 5.5% Upright Five from Portland, Oregon. After tasting both, Stephen stated that “beer styles are rapidly becoming an archaic idea.” This point was driven home as both of these beers defied classification other than to describe them as saison-like, and both were able to cut through the fat of the terrine without overwhelming the pork. As would be done with each course, a vote was taken as to which beer worked best. In this case the result was a 50/50 split with Stephen giving the edge to the Zinnebir, and he commented he had forgotten how sweet the Upright was.

Geuze Boon, a braised Belgian endive served with bacon veloute and shaved asparagus salad paired with 7.5% Scotch de Silly and 6.5% Ommegang Rare Vos from Cooperstown, NY turned out to be a study in contrast, as the Silly exhibits lots of malt, molasses and stewed fruits and shows up as a big beer, while the Rare Vos has a lighter character — two opposite beers. We were educated by Stephen that the Silly name comes from the city where the brewery is located, and that Scotch regiments based in Belgium after the end of World War I brought their beer with them. I was amazed to learn that Duvel was originally fermented with Scottish ale yeast and has mutated over the years. The winner of this showdown appeared to be the Silly, as the smoke of the bacon carried through to give smokiness to it, giving a sense of Scotch whisky, although some commented that the Rare Vos was preferred as a complement to the asparagus in the dish.

Waterzooi, a poached ling cod and smoked haddock with silk fish fumet paired with 8.5% Moinette Blonde and 9% Brooklyn Local 1 proved to be a tie, with the Local 1’s high carbonation cutting through the spice of the sauce and the astounding complexities and zestiness of the Moinette going well with the Waterzooi. Stephen informed that a waterzooi is a stoup — cross between a soup and stew; the Mointette is a tripel brewed by Brasserie du Pont, the brewery renowned for its Saison; the Local 1 is 100% bottle fermented (it goes into the bottle completely still, with the entire carbonation coming from the bottle conditioning), and Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver classifies it as a strong saison.

Carbonade Flamande, braised short ribs with Brussels sprouts and pomme frits paired with 7% Rodenbach Vintage and 7% New Belgium La Folie was a true treat for sour beer fans and the course which Stephen said he had been looking forward to the most. He related that his issue is that the style name means nothing; there are so many different types of sour, what is meant by sour? While the La Folie was a clear winner (and seven attendees from New Belgium surely may have helped sway the vote), both Stephen and I chose the Rodenbach, for its slightly sweet, slightly tart character which blended nicely with the short ribs. We were informed this is one beer that we will not have a year from now, as only one foeder (wooden vessel used to age beer) was bottled. The La Folie is the first tart/sour beer the New Belgium brewery ever produced, and was made under the expert supervision of Brewer Peter Bouckaert, who brewed at Rodenbach before coming over to New Belgium.

The finale was Belgian Waffle Sundae served with speculoos, chocolate and stout ice cream paired with 10% St. Bernardus Abt 12 and 9.3% North Coast Brother Thelonious. Stephen prefaced the course saying, “Very few wines go with desserts, whiskey does not, beer does.” In case you’re wondering, speculoos is the Belgian version of a gingerbread spice cookie, and is ubiquitous in Belgium around Christmas time. Once again, a Belgian beer was victorious, with the Abt 12’s big malt flavors helping it to edge out the Thelonius. This quadruple is made from one of the original recipes from the days of license-brewing for the Trappist monks of Westvleteren. Although the monks now brew it themselves, St. Bernardus still brews its own version. Stephen also gave props to North Coast for being in operation for more than 25 years and one of the original craft breweries in California. A special note about the Thelonius is that the proceeds go to a charity set up to teach kids jazz.

A quite enjoyable and educational evening was capped off by all attendees receiving a copy of The World Atlas of Beer personally inscribed by Stephen. This was not the first outstanding beer pairing dinner to take place at Fleur and other restaurants within Mandalay Bay, and with Sarah Johnson at the helm of the food and beverage offerings, it surely will not be the last.

The Author:

Bob Barnes is editorial director of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional, regional correspondent for Celebrator Beer News and writes the Top 10 Beer lists for Gayot.com. He welcomes your inquiries and can be reached via e-mail at bob@lvfnb.com.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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