Spring Beer Tasting

A recent gathering dedicated to craft brews featured a set of beers from Wisconsin paired with artisan cheeses and small plate appetizers…ahhh, the joy. The variations of craft beers provide a great complement to so many foods and Great Lakes Cuisine takes full advantage of such pairings.

Spring Beer

The most difficult part was setting the drinking order, due to the varieties being tasted. Typically, the biggest, hoppiest beer are last, but the highest alcohol are frequently later as well. Here, we had the lowest alcohol in our hoppiest beer, creating a bit of tasting dilemma.  Here they are in the order we tasted them along with paired dishes:

Central Waters – Hop Rise Session Ale : Described on their website as “An explosively hoppy” beer, the Hop Rise has a great nose of citrus, grapefruit, and floral notes. Compared to a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it is a bit less full in the body, but has a more pronounced hop-finish in the end. We enjoyed this paired with a home-cured Saucisson Sec, Sartori Montamore cheese, and Milwaukee Midget Dill Pickles. The peppery punch of the dry-cured sausage and the bold, tangy flavors of the cheese provided a nice compliment to the hoppy burst of beer.  Both the sausage and the cheese also provide a fatty, creamy contrast to the beer as well.



Lakefront Brewing – Riverwest Stein : A beautiful, malty amber lager, which despite their website’s recommendation to pair with German food, we paired with our version of Pastrami on Rye. The pastrami was a gift from my good friend, Tom, which he based on Michael Ruhlman’s pastrami shared at his blog, then smoked on the Green Egg. We returned to our smorrebrod approach we’ve discussed before. We spread a thyme butter on Rubschlager Pumpernickel Rye, add a malt vinegar mustard and then slice into quarters.  Each piece is then topped with the smokey goodness of pastrami.

pastrami on rye

The onions were caramelized in bacon lard with thyme and malt vinegar, for a sweet and tangy contrast to the rich meat flavors.The result created a nice foil for the slight sweetness of the malt in the Riverwest Stein, really a meal in one bite and a sip of beer – smoky, savory, sweet, and tangy.

pastrami on rye2


Wisconsin Brewing Co. – Big Sweet Life : This maibock-style brew was a “must have” for a spring beer tasting.  A malty, but not over-powering version of a bock beer, maibocks are traditionally not released in Germany until May 1st and are commonly served at spring festivals. Wisconsin Brewing Co. offers this advice at their website:  “There’s a sweet side to a Maibock that pairs well with savory, so think roast pork, potato dumplings, ham — you get the idea.” Yes, we got an idea – rakott krumpli. This a traditional Hungarian potato and sausage casserole. But we’re not going with a particularly traditional preparation here.

Re-imagining traditional dishes is a hallmark of Great Lakes Cuisine, and this dish provides a fun example. The potatoes of the traditional dish are here served as a potato pancake. The traditional Hungarian sausage is replaced with a home-made version. Both are topped with a smoked paprika sour cream and snipped garlic chives.


The potato pancakes provided a savory base which allowed some of the sweetness of the maibock to show through. We used 3 yukon gold potatoes shredded and one medium shallot grated, with 1 egg and a tablespoon of flour to create the pancakes. Fried in a pan with 2 tablespoons of oil until golden brown on both sides. This made about two dozen appetizer sized potato pancakes. The sausage we’ll discuss in another post dedicated to sausage-making. The smoked paprika is from Penzey’s. The chives are an early spring gift from the garden. The savory, smoky flavors are nice, and the maibock has enough alcohol punch to carry through.

In addition to our planned pairings, we had a lovely Wisconsin Gouda sampler available throughout the event: an aged Gouda from Edelweiss Creamery, a Smoked Gouda from Carr Valley Cheese Co., and a Marieke Gouda with Honey Clover from Holland’s Family Cheese.


The most interesting pairing partner was the Marieke Gouda with Honey Clover. The herbaceous qualities brought to the fore by the honey clover created a very nice complement to the hoppy character in the beer, and as it is the hoppiest of the beers we tasted, Central Water’s Hop Rise was the perfect dance partner. And that is one of the things beer can do best, play with different foods in unique and interesting ways.  No wonder it plays such a central role in so many cultural traditions, and is prominent in the Great Lakes Cuisine tradition as well.


4 thoughts on “Spring Beer Tasting

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