In this modern world of impersonal digital connections face-to-face relations between maker and consumer seem as out of date as clay tablets.
Enter the beer-pairing dinner — or in case of last night’s dinner at The Swiss Restaurant & Pub, the beer/cider-pairing dinner.
Velvety voiced, wildly charismatic Eric Willard shared his beers, his cider and his wisdom with a group of 40 or so. Willard is somewhat of the ultimate authority on beer and cider as he is part owner of Two Beers Brewing Co. and Seattle Cider Company, the sister companies — located a quarter inch from each other in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood — and stars of last night’s dinner. To sip beer and cider as you watch the facial expressions of someone involved in creating the libations while explaining ingredients and history adds a lasting impression and closer bond to the production house, or in this case, houses.
Add Brett Thompson to the mix — a Certified Cicerone and the region’s Two Beers/Seattle Cider sales executive — and you have two velvety voiced, wildly charismatic characters bringing enjoyment to the evening.
The meat of the velvety voiced, wildly charismatic sandwich was Swiss chef Jacob Thacker, who throughout the meal popped in and out of the kitchen to describe his cuisine, his thoughts on the pairings, then exit through a tunnel of hi-fives.
The Willard and Thompson show remained on the floor, with private showings at each table, which was sweet, but not as sweet as the Semi-Sweet Cider that welcomed each diner to the event.
Round one was shrimp poached in Two Beers Crooked Belgian Wit Ale with roasted cherry tomato salsa, served on crispy tostadas, paired with said Wit. Thompson said it was brewed with fresh ground coriander and dried orange peel, and it added a lively level of carbonation to the course.
The second course arrived in a shallow bowl, and my pick as the best pairing of the night. Thacker’s almond grape gazpacho with its fruity, savory complex flavor paired perfect with the Citrus Cider from Seattle Cider. The cider’s medium-dry sweetness of orange, lemon and grapefruit matched the delicious chilled soup, creating a seamless transition from food to beverage. Willard dropped by to discuss some of the more nuanced attributes of what we were drinking. I did my level best to pay attention, but at this point, I was greatly distracted by my tablemate Justin Peterson’s dissertation on trucker hats.
Swiss owner Jack McQuade called timeout motioning to the servers to bring trays full of Two Beers’ SoDo Brown into the room. Good call Jack. It sits on the lighter end of the American brown ale spectrum, and the easy drinking Brown brought folks out of their seats for cross-room conversations.
Third course smelled as tasty as it looked. Long strands of roasted duck covered a polenta cake garnished with crisp, wafer-thin fresh peppers in a Seattle Cider Three Pepper Cider sauce. Chef Thacker eyes lit up as he described the dish to the crowd, proud of his sauce. Rightfully so, the duck didn’t drown in the spicy sauce, and I didn’t drown in my tears sipping the cider. My palate pulled in the cider’s juicy, semi-sweet apple fruit taming the spice, although the three-pepper burn builds as the sipping went on.
The evening wrapped up with dessert, puff pastry shell filled with pumpkin mousse, sweet butternut squash ragout topped with a dollop of whipped cream and Pumpkin Spice Ale — inside the pastry shell as well in a Pilsner glass. The mousse had a distinct, but not overpowering, pumpkin flavor that combined harmoniously with the pumpkin ale, which added cinnamon, clove, a little bit of bitterness and spicy malt finish. Yum.
The dinner proved to be an entertaining way to try out a number of beer and cider styles and gain an appreciation for the ways in which various flavors combine and work together, and interact with the characters behind the flavors.
New Belgium Brewing Company will ride into The Swiss for a pairing dinner in November.