On Monday night, as part of Ontario Craft Beer Week, I attended a collaboration dinner with Harbord House and Great Lakes Brewery. And honestly, it’s taken me until now to write about it because I’m pretty sure I’m still full.
The evening was hosted by Harbord House owner John Oakes and Great Lakes Brewer David Bieman and consisted of four courses, each paired with a unique beer offering from Great Lakes.
In case the details thus far aren’t making it clear: This was a fucking great night.
Shockingly, after having lived in the city for five years, this was my first time at Harbord House and, thanks to the food they presented Monday and their clear appreciation of craft beer, I’ll certainly be back. As you may guess if you follow me on any form of social media or read my writing at blogTO, this was not my first time drinking Great Lakes beer. And, while I knew to expect great things, I was also really impressed with their beers Monday.
As the seating was designed to be somewhat social, my friend Josh and I were sat with a couple which gave me a valuable chance to get a sort of layperson’s take on the food and beer. Like a lot of things I say, this probably sounds elitist and snotty, but I assure you, it’s quite the opposite. What I mean to say is that, when one only drinks in the company of other beer nerds too much, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the world of caramel backbones, IBUs, lacing, dry hopping techniques etc. and it’s easy to forget that hey, some people just like to drink fucking beer because they like the taste of fucking beer.
And so, in an effort to give you a fair snapshot of the evening, in case my lone blackberry image above doesn’t do it for you, I’ll include a run down of each course and the coinciding beer, as well as the thoughts offered by my table mates, whom I’ll refer to as “Josh,” “Lynne” and “Travis” because those are their actual names.
The evening started with the OCB Belgian Farmhouse Ale, a collaborative beer brewed by Amsterdam, Great Lakes, and a brewer from Steam Whistle. This was a great example of the saison style and, and although there were hints of cardimon and coriander, it was considerably more refereshing than other saisons that can come off a little more herbal and spicy. After a sweaty walk to Harbord House I happily downed this first beer I was offered.
Lynne: “This is a nice summer beer.”
The always detailed Josh: “This is pretty good.”
FYI, pretty sure you can (and should) pick this up at Great Lakes and Amsterdam’s retail stores.
The dinner started with a poached pear and arugula salad with chevre, spiced pistachios, and maple balsamic vinaigrette. This was a good salad. The sweetness of the maple worked well with the chevre and the pear balanced the bitterness of the arugula. Personally, I didn’t think the Green Tea Ale worked as a pairing. I’m sure the intention was to pair the bitter sweet balance of the meal with the somewhat bitter sweet balance acheived with the green tea infused golden ale, but it fell just short for me. It had kind of a perfumey after taste (won’t say mouthfeel…) that I don’t really like. A decent beer though.
Josh: “I actually like this. Tasty. ”
Travis: “This beer goes well with the maple.”
Lynne: “As a person of Asian decent, I find the logo offensive.”
Lynne’s comment naturally led Josh and I to a series of jokes about 1970s-style kung fu commercials that could be made to sell the beer. We laughed.
As our menu card told us, our second course was to be Moules & Frites. We figured out the “frites” part quickly enough, but sadly there was some debate over what the “moules” would be–debate which of course quickly dissolved into Josh and I just saying “moley moley moley” a lot a la Austin Powers. Travis and Lynne were beginning to wonder what kind of evening they had gotten themselves into when it was revealed that, yes, moules was of course French for mussels and the second course was Belgian-style, beer-steamed mussels and fries with some kind of tasty mayo that I forgot to write notes about because I was still saying “moley moley moley” in my head.
This course was served with Great Lakes’ No Chance with Miranda Belgian Saison, a frankly fan-frigging-tabulous saison that won a gold medal at the 2011 Canadian Brewing Awards as the best example of the saison style (Incidentally, Great Lakes also took home a gold in that category this year for their Deliverance Saison. Basically, if you’re ever in a place that’s serving a saison made by the people at Great Lakes, drink a shit ton of it).
This one is refreshing with with some citrus notes, and just enough spice and hops. (I could go on about this beer, or you could just check out Chris Shryer’s review that he did of this beer on the Toronto Beer Blog a couple weeks ago that also explains how it got its cheeky name).
Josh: “Don’t love it. Don’t hate it. I would drink a free one, but I wouldn’t buy one.”
Visiting our table to unwittingly show how dumb Josh’s opinion was, national beer columnist Jordan St. John: “It’s just a shame they felt they had to serve food with it.”
At this point in the evening, we took a brief break from eating to try an experimental beer that was put on our table with no explanation. After sampling the interesting and spicy beer, we were encouraged to guess what the secret ingredient might be.
Josh, who was the first to guess, chose jalapeño, thus ensuring everyone else would lose the game since it was clearly jalapeño. Lynne went with red chilis, and after Travis tried to impress everyone with the clearly made up word “poblano,” I chose chipotle since I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
This jalapeño beer was really interesting and seemed well received by everyone in attendance, though I’m hard pressed to think what you might pair it with. Nachos seems an obvious answer, but I feel like beer is good with nachos in order to quench the spiciness, not add to it. Anyway, it was good.
Lynne: “This one would be good to serve a little later in the evening, when your guests are fading.”
Final Course and Dessert
Up until this point, I had been saying foolish things like, “I kind of wish I could get a full pint of beer,” and “I could go for another round of those mussels.”
Why these things were foolish to say became quite clear as John brought out braised beef short ribs with a potato puree and swiss chard with possibly the greatest food invention ever, horseradish cream, and David introduced another phenomenal invention, this one from the talented brain of experimental brewer, Mike Lackey, a Sasparilla Stout.
This ridiculously good course about which my notes only say “crazy good beef” was pretty much phenomenal. The beer, a fairly mellow and sweet 5.5% stout was perfectly suited to braised ribs and would be well-suited to grilled meets too. This was a good beer. This needs to be sold in bottles.
Travis: “That’s a good pairing.”
Josh, who just got a whole bunch of stuff on his shirt: “Wait, what? Why are you writing down that I spilled on my shirt?”
As for dessert, I’m almost in physical pain remembering it. This evening was a lot of food and beer and as absolutely amazing as the chocolate strawberry cheesecake paired with Harry Porter and The Bourbon Soaked Vanilla Beans was, I feel like the universal reaction to this insanely rich course was “Holy shit are you fucking kidding me right now, bro?”
The cheesecake, as cheesecakes tend to be, was great; and the beer, which has always been generally well rated, was a phenomenal, rich, mellow, and smooth porter with noticeable bourbon and vanilla notes. It’s an excellent beer. But after all that food? Man, bringing this out felt somewhat sadistic.
Josh, Travis, and I, all of whom went pretty hard at the sasparillo sprout that was left in a big bottle on our table: “Oh man. Jesus.” *stomach rubbing, wincing”
Lynne, who was digging on the sweetness of both closing items: “Ohhh. That is nice. It might not be a guy thing, but this is resonating with me.”
My memory of the end of the night is foggy. Not because I drank too much, just because I was so full and bloated I felt like I was in a daze. It was the kind of awesome and indulgent meal that makes you hurt when you get up from the table–in a good way. I swear to you that as we left the restaurant, Josh was actually limping. It was that good.
All in all, it was a great night. Clearly the folks at Harbord House know how to host a dinner and, as usual, Great Lakes brought the goods too. It also provided a great way to prep my stomach and liver for the punishment they’ve both been enduring since thanks to OCB Week.