Beer & Food: Some Like It Hop
Nick O / 20.04.12
Beer and food matching is proving a hit all around the country at the moment and Sydney’s Pumphouse Bar recently showed they certainly have plenty of hits in them – especially of the hop variety – with the launch of what will be monthly beer events. The evening was called Hop Heads and it justifiably attracted plenty of punters who’d consider themselves worthy of such a title.
The premise was a marathon seven courses of food matched with seven beers. Much like a computer game, things started out with a fairly moderate challenge before the difficulty increased with each subsequent level.
Before the first beer, Pumphouse beer guy Liam Periera addressed the audience and said simply: “We’re not brewers, we’re drinkers. What we’ve done is put together an interesting bunch of beers and dishes that we reckon go really well together. We’re not here to tell you what to think – we want you to tell us what you think”.
And with that, the feast began.
The first beer of the night was the Red Duck Hoppy Amber and it didn’t hang around long. That wasn’t solely due to it being eminently drinkable, but also because it was served with a sausage so gloriously fatty and thirst-inducing that it should, by all rights, be illegal. Perhaps it is – Bronwen Andrews-Baxter of The Pumphouse did mention that she’d attempted to get it removed from the menu due an inability to stop eating it. The first course was followed up by spicy salt & pepper squid paired with the Holgate Hopinator Double IPA. The way the hops cut through the spice perfectly did raise a conversation as to why strong IPAs aren’t more commonly recommended with spicy food.
Round three could be referred to as a drinks break, albeit one that is narrated by the person that actually made the drink. The beer was named ‘Beserka’, a one-off batch that was brewed especially for Hop Heads by Mike Jorgenson of Ekim Brewing Co. Of the beer, he says he “aimed for something similar to his favourite West Coast, USA beers but it was a mainly chance for experimentation and doesn’t necessarily fit into a specific category”. It was perhaps a little Brown Ale, maybe a little Amber, certainly with plenty of malt and plenty of hops – obviously.
After very modestly and honestly guiding the audience through some of what he perceived as faults and admitting that “it could have done with a bit more time”, he asked the audience what they thought of the beer. The first reply was: “I think you’re being too hard on yourself” and the empty glasses around the room very much seemed to echo those sentiments. It was the sign of a perfectionist in him that he indicated he would probably brew the beer “once more, just to get it exactly how I imagined it to be” but for all intents and purposes Beserka will remain in the memory of the drinkers as a beautiful one night stand.
The hop credentials of the evening ramped up when Feral’s Fantapants took a seat at the table next to a dish centred on Veal Bone Marrow and Skunkworks Ragu. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to satisfy your inner caveman in public by chewing on a bone and washing it down with a strong beer, so it was truly relished. Those less inclined to ‘chew the fat’ got their opportunity for indulgence in the next round: 8 Wired Re-Wired Brown Ale served with Chocolate Fondant pudding and Butterscotch ice cream. There are few things in this world that can compete with a beautifully made craft beer, but chocolate pudding is surely one of them. Serve them both up at the same time though and watch the unbridled gluttony unfold in front of your eyes.
Despite the rapidly expanding stomachs, another minor surge of excitement swept across the diners as the next dish was revealed: Hop Panna Cotta. For the majority of the diners, it was their first experience with hops as a food group and the Pumphouse crew made sure it was one they wouldn’t forget.
“We made a batch a few days earlier, just to test it out,“ said Liam, "and it tasted really good – nice and hoppy. But we figured, ‘It’s Hop Heads, they’ll be into it’ so we doubled the number of hops into the mixture.”
As a discussion point it was probably the highlight of the night, with debates about whether or not it was too much or not enough. Some couldn’t finish it while others were literally sprinkling more raw hops over the top as a garnish. The question of how much is too much seemed, as it is with beer, to lie with the individual. Perhaps if you wanted to be more objective you wouldn’t drink a Feral Barrel Aged Hop Hog at the same time but, on such occasions, needs must.
The final round read like a meal you’d order at a glamourous drive-through restaurant: Moon Dog Skunkworks Cognac Barrel Aged Double IPA … with Cheese. By this stage some were in a hop-enforced stupor and most were struggling to move under the weight of a medieval style feast. But despite the widespread proclamations of fullness, one can only admire a cheeseboard for so long before being tempted to indulge a little further.
It was a fitting end to an incredibly diverse sensory experience and an event of preposterously good value. There was plenty in there to keep anyone happy, but especially for those looking for a bit of extra hoppiness in their lives.