Toronto’s Bier Markt held a tasting of some of the finest Belgian beers last week, and we picked up a few things all imbibers should know.
Last Friday, the country of Belgium blew out 181 candles on its birthday cake. To celebrate, Toronto’s Bier Markt has been offering up a Belgian Food and Beer Flight special all month. The lowdown: For $22, you get three, six-ounce Belgian brews matched with mini-dishes created by Executive Chef Michael Cipollo.
Here are five things I learned at a recent tasting:
1. When it comes to pairing beer with food, break the rules
The first pairing was Stella Artois with a buttery croque monsieur stacked with generous amounts of ham and Emmental cheese, and the second was Hoegaarden with grilled prawns over creamy dill potato salad.
These are what Cipollo calls “classic pairings.” The lager’s crispness cuts through the butter and fat of the croque, while the orange, citrusy zing of the Hoegaarden acts like a lemon squeezed over the grilled shrimp, elevating its sweetness.
But being spoonfed “classic pairings” is easy. To seriously hone your palette, you have to think like a marathoner and train. One of the best ways to learn what you like is by switching things up. I liked the Hoegaarden and croque combo as the sandwich put the wheat beer’s spicy coriander notes into hyperdrive.
2. Match the beer to the food, not to the season
The last pairing was Leffe Blonde, a Belgian blonde ale with hints of caramel, matched with a short rib, braised in the beer, and topped with a caramelized onion. Matthew Shemilt, General Manager of Bier Markt Don Mills and overall beer guru, explained that he could have paired the ribs with a heftier, sweeter Leffe Brune, but the lighter blonde ale was chosen to match the summer season.
The pairing was underwhelming. A maltier beer with enough oomph to stand up to the hearty ribs would have worked better, no matter how hot it was outside.
3. The trickle-down effect of global beer behemoths is alive and well in Toronto
Shemilt said that the whole Belgian-beer celebration was the idea of Labatt and their parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev. The global beer giant selected the beers (which happen to be some of the company’s biggest Belgian beer brands) for the flight and Cipollo then created a dish to pair with each brew.
“Yes, these are popular beer brands,” said Shemilt, almost apologetically, “but Labatt and AB-InBev are our biggest client, and they did start the whole Belgian beer movement in Canada by importing these brands here years ago.”
4. AB InBev is the biggest global beer behemoth of them all
When AB InBev paid $20.1 billion to buy up the rest of Group Modelo (it already owned a 50 per cent stake in the Mexican beer brand) on June 30, it became bigger than its two biggest rivals (SABMiller and Heineken) combined.
What does this mean for us lowly imbibers? Likely less choice at restaurant taps, pricier pints, and a whole lot more “Corona bucket” offers. Will this drive more of us to the craft side? Torontonian beer writer Stephen Beaumont thinks so.
5. But it’s still Belgian, well, sort of…
Before there was AB InBev, there was Interbrew, a Belgian beer company owned by three “founding families” of old-school Belgian breweries, including the de Spoelberch clan, who owned the Artois brewery.
Those families have four seats on the AB InBev Board, with an additional four taken up by Brazilian investors. Together, they have a controlling stake in the company.
And AB InBev’s global headquarters are still in Leuven, Belgium, where Stella Artois began and where some of the beer is still brewed today.