With Melbourne commonly accepted as the food capital of Australia, it is no surprise that the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival plays host to a range of fun and fabulous events that showcase Victoria’s restaurants and produce.  We took the opportunity to attend a beer and food matching dinner held at Beer Deluxe in Federation Square. Whilst matching food and wine is a concept that most are familiar with, the concept of matching beer with food is still largely being introduced to the general public by the beer connoisseurs.

We were seated at long communal benches, which created the initial atmosphere for the event. Sitting next to people you didn’t know, forced you to socialise, and pretty soon, the barriers were broken and laughs were heard all around. Our host, who’s name I can’t remember, but we referred to him as Alan due to the striking resemblance he beared to his Hangover namesake, started off the night with an introduction about beer, the brewing movement, and some fun facts like that beer is the oldest recipe in the world!

In front of us were placed menus, and soon it was time to eat.

Course 1:
Non veg option: Cured kingfish, fennel, dill, hops
Veg option: Marinated artichoke, fennel dill, hops
Matched beer: Moo Brew Hefeweizen

As with all the courses, the element of the meal that matched the beer was the sauce and accompaniments, so it made little difference that the protein was replaced in my meal. The use of hops in a meal was a new idea for me, but surprisingly, it didn’t dominate the flavours and instead complimented the other elements well. The beer, also added an additional dimensions, and it was easy to see how it enhanced the taste of the meal.

Course 2:
Non veg option: Confit pork belly, smoked cauliflower, lychee
Veg option: Pumpkin gnocchi, smoked cauliflower, lychee
Matched beer: Feral Hop Hog IPA

An explanation about the history of Indian pale ales from Alan, educated us about the origins of this style of beer. The IPA is a strongly hopped pale ale which was designed to survive the long sea journey from England to India, to satisfy the drinking requirements of the soldiers. Whilst many find the flavour of an IPA not palatable, the beer paired very well with the meal.
The sweetness of the lychee brought out a sweetness in the beer, and they accentuated each other. They were not however sickly sweet, as the smokiness of the cauliflower added an additional layer of flavour. Unfortunately, the gnocchi was slightly below my high expectations of pasta. They were a little stodgy, rather than the little soft pillows of goodness that I always hope for in gnocchi. Luckily, the other elements compensated for this significantly, especially the cauliflower puree. The smoked flavour is one of my favourites, so I really enjoyed it in this dish.

Course 3:
Non veg option: Grilled duck breast, pickled cherries, shallot puree, mixed radish
Veg option: Mixed mushrooms, pickled cherries, shallot puree, mixed radish
Matched beer: Moon Dog Mr Mistoffelees

Alan told us that they were keen on a course to divide the opinions of the guests, and this was the course. Mr. Mistoffelees was a sour beer, with supposed tones of mango and passionfruit, but for me, it was really not pleasant at all. I tried it with the meal, in the hope that the beer with the food would enhance the flavours, but unfortunately this was not the case. The dish by itself was delicious. I am a huge mushroom fan, so any dish with mushrooms is a sure fire winner with me, and one again, the puree was the real winner. But having the beer with the meal did not work at all, and infact I found that the sourness of the beer was accentuated, creating an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Course 4:
Meal: Stout cake, caramel Italian meringue
Matched beer: Cavalier Brown Ale

Unfortunately I must have forgotten to take a picture of this course :( You just have to trust me when I say it was delicious. Dark ales and chocolate desserts are always a great pairing, and this was no exception. The Cavalier Brown Ale is not extra dark or heavy, so satisfied the palates of even the drinkers who usually don’t like dark ales, and the stout cake accentuated the chocolate and coffee overtones of the beer.

The cake on its own was soft, moist and full of flavour. Unfortunately the Italian meringue that it was served with was all but a little dribble on the plate. I would have preferred a much bigger portion of meringue, or perhaps some rich chocolate sauce instead, after all what can beat chocolate with chocolate? Oh that’s right, chocolate with dark ale.

If there was one criticism to make, it was that the portion sizes were extremely small. Most of us finished the four courses still hungry, and we ended up ordering a bowl of chips to share. Whilst I understand that fine dining typically has small serving sizes, a little more food wouldn’t have gone astray given how much beer was consumed! Overall, it was a fabulous night. Kudos to Beer Deluxe for hosting such a fun evening. It could have gone horribly wrong by seating us on communal tables, but everyone was friendly and we all had a great time!

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