Ensemble Tap’s bier pairing dinner for June was with Russell Brewing, and featured 4 tasty dishes created specially to pair with 4 different Russel beers.
The first bier served was Russell Honey Blonde Ale, a 5% ABV blonde ale that’s part of Russell’s “Session Series”.
The accompanying dish was a Strawberry and Mozzarella Salad with sumac, mesclun mix, parsley and celery hearts.
The bier is a pale clear yellow with a pale head. The aroma is honey and citrus. It is relatively light on the palate, is medium bodied, and has a subtle bitterness on the finish. The flavours are grain and citrus peel. Overall a light and refreshing bier.
The citrus of the salad, as well as the slight tartness of the strawberries paired well with the citrus elements of the beer to create an overall crisp and refreshing first course. The meat and cheese from the salad also further brought out the crisp elements of the beer.
The next bier was Russell Main Street Pilsner, a 5% ABV pilsner.
The accompanying dish was a Thai Sausage with glass noodles, daikon, pea shoots and carrot.
The pilsner, poured from a can, is a very pale yellow with very little head. The aroma is creamed corn and wet straw. It has a very light body, is almost non-existent on the palate and has a short finish. The flavours are corn bread and citrus peel. I’m generally not much of a fan of pilsners and hence found this bier somewhat uninteresting.
The thai sausage was absolutely delicious, and there was some fantastic lemonyness in the noodles. Unfortunately for me this didn’t really bring anything out of the beer, which being a pilsner does not have much depth of character. The citrus of the dish helped give the illusion that the beer had some citrus character but I feel all the flavour really just came from the dish.
The third bier was Russell A Wee Angry Scotch Ale, a 6.5% ABV bier crafted in the style of a 19th century 90 shilling Scotch Ale.
This bier was accompanied by a filet of Halibut, with brown butter hollandaise, almonds and broccoli.
The scotch ale pours a translucent reddish brown with a reasonable pale head. The aroma is wet hay, burnt sugar and malt. It is roasty on the palate, with a bitter roast finish. The flavours are caramel, burnt toast, coffee dregs and a touch of hazelnut.
The Halibut was a very buttery dish – almost overwhelmingly so. It was very tasty but quite rich and heavy. Pairing wise, it smoothed out the roastiness of the beer and gave it a nice butterscotch like character.
The final bier of the evening was Russell IP’eh, a 6.5% ABV English-style IPA.
This accompanied the dessert course, which was To Die For Banana Bread, with thyme, ice cream and Dulce Leche.
The IPA pours a clear rusty amber with a good sized pale head and vigorous carbonation. The aroma is freshly cut grass, pine and passionfruit. It is relatively light on the palate and has a bitter hoppy finish. The taste is pine, spruce, a hint of caramel and toffee. I’m somewhat surprised they call this an English-style IPA when it is so obviously hopped with American Cascade hops, which makes it much like a typical Pacific Northwest IPA.
The banana bread was very tasty (although it was still partly frozen when served). I found it kind of strange that a rich dessert like this would be served with an IPA, and I feel it did not pair well – if anything it emphasized the hoppiness of the beer and made it harder to drink.
To summarize, I found this was another Ensemble Tap dinner where the food excelled and the bier didn’t quite live up to its side of the pairing bargain. The pairing I feel worked the best was the first one, where the citrus elements from the Strawberry and Mozzarella Salad complimented the citrusy notes of the Russell Honey Blonde Ale, with the other elements of the salad playing a good supporting role.