Posted on February 15, 2016
Beer: My Valentine.
Nowadays, people often celebrate February 14th with chocolates and cartoon love hearts, while forgetting the humble beginnings of the tradition of Valentine’s Day. History tells us that in 273 A.D., on February 14th, Saint Valentine fell from his horse when he was struck by a stray arrow fired by a local hunter, Ignatius Cupid. The wounded Valentine, in thorough agony and basically just having a very bad day, dragged his sorry self to the nearest tavern for a meal and several tankards of ale. After losing an awful lot of blood and imbibing much nasty ancient beer, he proceeded to vomit in a rosebush outside. The kindly barmaid helped him in his time of need, and when he awoke to see her by his side at the local physician’s house, he subsequently fell in love with her. They married exactly one year later, and February 14th was remembered and celebrated for its great contribution to their romance. (Note: Please do some fact-checking before quoting me on the details.)
My wife Kamina and I like to adhere to the traditional origins of such holidays, and so we decided to do something nice and simple: she would prepare a tasty meal for us to enjoy, and I would match it with a few choice beers from our beer shelf. Low fuss, but hey, we’re low fuss kinda people.
First, we wanted an aperitif while the food was being prepared. It was a hot day, so I wanted something that would be light and refreshing, but since we weren’t eating anything with it, I wanted something flavourful that would open up our tastebuds. (A little trivia for you: the word ‘aperitif’ comes from the Latin ‘to open’, and is indeed meant to ‘open’ the appetite… although earlier usage of the word denoted a laxative, and referred to ‘opening’ something else. Isn’t language fun?!)
I picked the intriguing Knappstein Reserve Lager, “a super premium Bavarian style lager crafted by a master winemaker and brewer to reflect wine characteristics in style, structure and complexity”.
It poured a clear soft lemon colour, and the head dissipated immediately. We breathed in, and were rewarded with a sweet, floral aroma (very fitting for Valentine’s Day), which I wasn’t expecting from a lager. Our first sip then confirmed that this was no run-of-the-mill, singlet-and-thongs lager. This was more a suit-and-tie-French-accent kind of lager. It drank like a well-balanced white wine, equal parts sweet and dry. Close your eyes, and you’re walking through a field of flowers with a glass of crisp Riesling. A pleasant experience indeed. Good pick, Mick.
We swilled the last sip of our wine-flower-lager, and it was time for our salad. Wifey had made a rocket/fennel/asparagus salad with grapefruit, walnuts, and balsamic, so I decided I wanted something crisp and fresh that wouldn’t butt heads with those strong flavours. I chose a Courage blonde ale by Cavalier Brewing, poured us a couple of glasses, and we sat on the floor of our living room with some Parisian music playing (okay I swear it was much more low key than it sounds).
At first, when I saw the sediment and persistent head, I thought the Courage might be a stronger tasting beer than I’d expected. But it turned out to be just what I was looking for: a salad in beer form, like crunchy lettuce and subtle croutons. (Kamina described it as “subtle malt flavour with some fruit coming through”… I’d just figured that was the grapefruit!)
Right. A salad and salad-y beers are all well and good to begin with, but now I was ready for something substantial. Something you can chew. Our main dish was conchiglioni (big ole’ pasta shells that you could totally fit a golf ball into) stuffed with pumpkin, tofu, spinach, and shallots, and all blanketed with ajvar (tangy red capsicum relish) and fried cherry tomatoes. This was going to need something with a bit more punch than a lager or blonde ale.
I decided to go with a tried and tested beer: Shepherd Neame’s India Pale Ale. This was the only beer of the night I’d tasted before (and talked about in more detail in a previous post), but I thought the caramelly maltiness would kick through the bite of the ajvar. I think the sweetness was slightly lost among the ajvar and pumpkin, but it wasn’t a big problem—it just brought more of the biscuity character out to play. It definitely still worked.
Now, we were originally going to have strawberries and dark chocolate for dessert (with just a dusting of cliche), and so I’d picked an appropriate dark beer to match: Little Creatures’ Return of the Dread. As it turns out, our chocolate had weevils in it. Personally, I thought stout would go well with weevil, but Kamina thought we should just throw the chocolate out. (Wasteful.) So instead, we walked to the local gelateria (okay it turns out the second half of the night definitely was a living breathing cliche after all) and had some fantastic it-tastes-exactly-like-fruit-except-cold sorbet. Unfortunately, I made the call that the gelati place probably wouldn’t appreciate us smuggling in a beer, so we waited until we got home to have our Dread.
It was dark and roasty, quite smooth drinking, and definitely would’ve done well with some dark chocolate. (But I shouldn’t complain—at least we didn’t end the night with an arrow wound, vomiting into a rosebush.)
Friends, I can certainly recommend the multi-stage dinner with matched (in some way) beers as a way to celebrate some minor calendar event. Particularly if you can snag a great conversationalist to share it with.
Just go easy on the cliches, okay?