Beer has come a long way in Canada. In pioneer days all beer was small production and artisan-made. Then big companies swallowed up the little brewers and industrial production ruled. Now, beer drinkers, especially those on Vancouver Island, have fully embraced a new age of microbreweries. Along with a new age of beer comes along a new age of pairing foods with beer.
I think when I moved to Vancouver Island nearly 10 years ago the trend was just getting underway and you could count the number of microbreweries on the fingers of two hands. But now there’s been an explosion, and part of it is due to some relaxed regulations allowing small production breweries to have restaurants attached to them, allowing the brewmasters to sample their wares to a bit of a captive audience, and this in turn has elevated the art of pairing food with beer.
Canoe Brewpub in Victoria put on a very well-attended beer feast last night that featured five courses of food, six if you count the bowl of onion and ale soup in between the duck confit and the braised short ribs. Each course was paired with one of five different beers crafted by brewmaster Daniel Murphy, who emphasized that there aren’t too many rights or wrongs when pairing beers with foods, but at Canoe they’re there to make you think about their suggestions and then get out there and try it for yourself. A prime example was our first course, a platter of cured meats from the Whole Beast Artisan Salumeria, house beer cheese, and Yarrow Meadows duck pate, paired with Canoe’s River Rock Bitter. The extra hoppiness in the bitter really helps to cut through the fat of the charcuterie, cheese and pate. I would probably find the beer too bitter on its own, but it goes very well with the platter.
I asked Chef Aaron Lawrence to tell me how he goes about developing a special menu like this, and it’s all about reflecting the general values they’ve established for the brewpub. Simple, fresh flavours, local ingredients whenever possible. Lots of BC ingredients were on the menu last night, including Cache Creek beef shortribs, Little Qualicum Cheeseworks raclette cheese on an onion and ale soup, Yarrow Meadows duck confit, and Fraser River Sturgeon, which came on a chorizo-flavoured grits cake with some pickled fennel. This is a sustainably farmed fish that has a very mild flavour that Aaron didn’t want to overpower with a strong beer, so we had this very smooth Red Canoe Lager to go along with it. As Daniel Murphy says, there aren’t a lot of rules, but one is that you don’t have a strong beer overpower a mild food and vice versa.
The brewmaster and chef work together on the menu plan, and they both told me that they love working in the brewpub setting and love working together not only on the regular menu, but on special evenings like last night’s feast.
There are some other beer and food events coming up, but they are both SOLD OUT. Brewery and the Beast takes place this Sunday at Phillips Brewery, and the Tall Sails and Ales Tour by Maple Leaf Adventures…a five day sailing tour visiting BC microbreweries…is also sold out. Check that one out for next year.