Palate pairings

DCP-exclusive announcement: AleFest announces AleFest 2015 – Aug. 29, 2015 at Dave Hall Plaza downtown!

 

AleFeast Dayton blends food and beer

By Kevin J Gray

Photo: The AleFeast craft beer and food pairing event begins at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7

The purchase of the AleFest brand in summer 2014 reinvigorated Dayton’s largest craft beer tasting, an event that was already wildly popular and hugely successful.

Now, co-owners Amanda Pond and Jennifer Dean are triumphantly heralding the return of AleFeast Dayton, a celebration of pairings. The festival, which couples foods and craft beers, took a hiatus in 2014, but returns this year for its sixth iteration. Early indications are that it will be even more flavorful than previous years.

AleFeast is Dayton’s largest food and beer pairing event. Dean and Pond have enlisted the help of more than a dozen local food establishments, and will pair four to five beers with dishes from each of these restaurants. For the first time, AleFeast will also offer wine pairings with each of the culinary samples. Attendees will be able to experience a dish, then compare and contrast both beer and wine pairings to determine which works best with the foods’ flavors.

In establishing the menu, Pond and Dean have worked hard to be inclusive of as many diets and preferences as possible, including gluten-free and vegan dishes. Pond noted they are “trying to make sure we have something for everybody.”

In fact, in planning the festival, the food is foremost.

“We start with the food,” Pond explained. “First we have to nail down the menu items. What we do there is we make sure we have a poultry, we have a beef, that there aren’t too many things that are similar. We are currently looking for a vegetarian option, so we have all our bases covered.”

Once the food is set, they start working with breweries and distributors to determine which beers should be included. “Some people think it’s easy, you just get the beer,” Pond explained. “But there is a lot to figure out. For instance, what you want, specifically, from each brewery.”

The choices have everything to do with what flavors work with the food.

Pond and Dean try pairing the foods with local beers first but aren’t hesitant to bring in regional or national beers if the flavors dictate doing so. The pairings can be a lot of work, but it’s work Pond is happy to undertake.

“That’s probably one of the most fun parts, when you are working on the pairings,” she explained. “I feel like I need to go and try all the beers. So it’s nice to just get back out there and see what’s new from all the breweries.”

For instance, Pond is excited about some of the flavors she discovered at Hairless Hare, Vandalia’s local brewery. She is excited about establishing traditional chocolate and cheese flavors with the brewery’s offerings.

“Friesinger’s chocolates does a chocolate assortment and we have Arrow Wine, who is also going to be doing some cheese assortments from around the world,” Pond explained. “So, I think we can have a lot of fun with those two stations, specifically with some of the Hairless Hare brews.”

Supporting local breweries and local food establishments has a lot to do with why Dean and Pond made the investment in the AleFest/AleFeast brand. Pond’s background is in marketing and graphic design, and she has worked with ad agencies and non-profits. She understands the need for local brands to establish themselves, and she sees AleFest and AleFeast as venues for local and regional breweries and food vendors to find an audience and gain exposure.

“My end goal was to be the marketing outlet to all of these local places,” Pond said.

“It’s hard to market yourself when you are trying to run a business, so that’s kind of where we step in. We benefit from it, and we teach people all the cool things that are around Dayton.”

Pond explained that, “It’s really all about community.” She elaborated on the feeling of camaraderie within the local community, especially within the Miami Valley brewing industry.

“What’s been most interesting for me has been watching everybody grow,” Pond explained. “The brewing industry in Dayton is so connected and tied to each other, and so helpful. I can’t think of any other industry that does the same thing. They really rely on each other, and that’s kind of different for me because I haven’t been a part of that before.”

Beer and food: a match made in heaven

The breweries and restaurants in the Miami Valley work together to make the area a better place, both economically and culturally. In a similar way, food and beer work together to create an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. Garrett Oliver, brewmaster for Brooklyn Brewery and an outspoken expert on food and beer pairings, notes in his book, “The Brewmaster’s Table,” that beer can “make every single decent meal you have an interesting and memorable experience. It can be something that will lighten up your senses and make you actually want to pay attention to what’s happening on your palate.”

Luckily, the organizers of AleFeast have taken a lot of the guesswork out of the pairings for attendees, assigning beer and wine suggestions for each dish. So instead of determining what beer should be paired with a given entrée, attendees can evaluate the flavors of the beers Pond and Dean have selected to determine which ones are dominant, which ones are subtle, which are pleasing and which are less so.

When evaluating a beer and food pairing, look for complementary flavors. For instance, grilled foods tend to pair well with amber ales because the grilling process adds char and caramelized flavors. Those flavors are dominant in the amber beers, so the beverage complements the food.

Food pairings can also work with contrasting flavors. This is true with wines more so than beers, but there are a number of beers that follow this guideline. For instance, beers with overt fruit notes, such as krieks or other fruit lambics, pair especially well with chocolate or creamy flavors, such as chocolate cake or cheesecakes.

As with food, much of what we perceive as flavor in beers comes from the aroma. Before taking a drink, take a second to smell the beer. Is it citrusy or piney? Are there notes of ripe pit fruits, like cherries or plums? Or does the beer tend more toward coffee or chocolate? The aroma foreshadows the flavor of a beer, so look for aromas that work with the flavors in the food.

The interplay between sweetness and bitterness can also impact food pairings. Beers that are heavily hopped, like pilsners, pale ales and IPAs, will tend to be more bitter, often with bright hop notes that play well with spicy foods like curries, Thai or Indian dishes. Meanwhile, sweeter, maltier beers like porters, amber ales and stouts play better with foods that have more roast or heft, like grilled steaks, or more dominant sweet notes, like vanilla ice cream.

Finally, the relative weight of a beer also contributes to a successful pairing. A big, boozy Belgian Tripel, although light in color, would overpower a delicate fish dish, as would a barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout. Homemade mac and cheese, with its rich creamy mouthful, or a thick, greasy burger, would bury a more delicate German wheat beer.

There are no wrong or right food pairings, however, which is why the AleFeast organizers are offering a number of beers for each dish. Taste is always subjective, and this is doubly true when pairing a dish with a beverage. In the end, look for food flavors that are appealing, then look for beers and wines with some of the same or contrasting attributes.

What to expect

AleFeast takes place on Saturday, Feb. 7, from 4-7 p.m. As in previous years, the event will be held in the Dayton Masonic Temple, located next to the Dayton Art Institute.

The tasting, which is much smaller and more intimate than AleFest, is an indoor event, encompassing both the first floor and the balcony within the temple. More than a dozen tasting stations will be scattered throughout the two floors, and each station will offer one or more food options. Attendees will fill their plate, then choose their beverage. The organizers will offer multiple beer pairings for each dish, so attendees can see how, even within the beer world, different brews highlight different flavors. See the sidebar, “Don’t-Miss Morsels” for a sample of some of the food options that, as of the writing of this article, were slated to be available. As noted above, there will also be wines available at each station, allowing for further palate-expanding experiences.

The tickets, which are $50, are available online (with a $3.50 fee) or from a variety of local establishments (see the full list online or buy tickets at alefest.com/alefeast). Tickets are also available at the door for on the day of for $55. Tickets are good for 20 4 oz. beverage samples, along with the food offerings. Local musician Nick Mitchell will be onsite, playing music on the second floor to further enhance the experience.

AleFeast takes place Saturday, Feb. 7 from 4-7 p.m. at the Dayton Masonic Temple, 525 W. Riverview Ave. Tickets are $50 in advance, $55 at the door. Tickets are also available at a number of participating venues. No one under the age of 21 will be admitted. For more information, please visit alefest.com/alefeast.

Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balanced, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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