This year, beer seemed to push wine off the stage as the beer dinner took over. But Victoria has always been a beer town, you say. After all, Canada’s first brewpub was started on the shores of the Inner Harbour. And recent voting in EAT’s Exceptional Eats! Reader Awards show that beer comes in top with the majority of EAT readers when asked to pick their top local tipple.
But until recently, restaurants seemed to only focus on wine when creating pairings for their special dinners. Well, one stock market crash later and times have changed. That and the exploding creativity found on the Island in developing ever more intriguing craft brews has pushed interest in beer to the forefront. And local chefs are stepping it up and creating more menus that are being paired with beer.
Some recent examples: Veneto Tapa Lounge paired with California’s Lost Coast Brewing, Sips Artisan Bistro collaborated with New York’s Brooklyn Brewery, Ottavio set-up their cheeses at Phillips Brewery, and Canoe Brewpub’s Brewhouse Dinner saw their own stellar beers featured along with a unique beer cocktail. In the New Year, look for Driftwood Brewery to team up with Bistro 28 and, on Jan 11, Sips presents the Hoyne Brewery Beer Dinner.
Most recently, Swans presented their own Brewmaster Dinner, in part to celebrate the launch of their new Double Shot Porter. Luckily I snagged an invite and one nasty early winter evening, I headed to a sold-out Wild Saffron. Wine dinners always seem to start out quiet and end up with plenty of chatter and noise. But beers dinners are loud from the get- go, as conviviality and a good time is the name of the game. Wild Saffron was no exception. There were a number of large groups, out for a great time at an amazingly good value ($39 for six courses and seven beers).
Swans brewer Andrew Tessier acted as the evening’s MC, announcing each beer and each course with a little background information. Tessier has been the brewer at Swans since 2003. (Swans Buckerfields Brewery was started in 1989.) Clearly this is a man who has found the passion of his life.
We started with beer-whipped butter, bread, and refreshing Arctic Ale, then beer-brined Sooke Farms gravlax trout salad (the Goldfish crackers were a cute touch) and Pandora Pale Ale—light, aromatic and fruity. A sturdy, toasty Oatmeal Stout accompanied a slow-braised Kindwood Farm ox tail broth and potato dumpling soup, then a pause…of burn lemon sorbetto.
Dual main courses featured first, a stunning and ballsy (who serves quail to 80 people?) skillet-fried “Two Rivers” Quail that was crusted with spicy brewery grains and matched to Swans Extra Pale Ale. Executive Chef Keith LeFevre later confided that deboning one hundred and sixty tiny quail legs might have been a tad ambitious. But it was definitely worth it, as I found this dish to be the highlight of the night. A quick word on IPAs. IPAs are trending high this year and beer drinkers can’t seem to get enough hop flavour in their glass. Swan’s IPA fit the profile with a strong hoppy flavour and aroma.
This was followed by chargrilled beef tenderloin and Scotch ale-braised pork belly matched up with Scotch Ale. This ale is deep, complex, sweet, nutty and full of a maltiness that also was a good choice for braising the pork belly.
Dessert was a smorgasbord plate of whimsical and playful desserts (root beer ice, marshmallow, lychee, mini chocolate beer bottle). The newly launched Double Shot Porter announced itself with café press aroma and a hint of chocolate. Made me sit up and take notice and it was as good as finishing a meal with a coffee.
The night ended with good byes to newly made friends, a cab ride home and a vow to attend many more beer dinners.
Wild Saffron Bistro at Swans Suite Hotel
506 Pandora Avenue, Victoria
Victoria Beer Week: History Class
Local meats + craft beer. Party. Repeat.
Summer Beer Spectacular
Phillips Launches Soda Works
Event Report: 1st Beer Feast Takes Place at
Brewery & The Beast: A Festival of Meat
Private Wine Store Series: Metro Liquor at Tuscany
Private Wine Store Series: Cook St. Village Liquor
Cumin, Beer and 20 Strangers
Ferris Meets Phillips