On a crisp November evening sixty people entered the side door at Highland Tap and Burger marked “Do Not Enter”. What waited for them behind that door? This year’s Beer Vs. Wine competition – a throw down to see which libation pairs best with this year’s secret ingredient: chocolate. Chocolatiers from Hi*Rise, Ziva Chocolates, Lioni Chocolate, and The Pomm were there to provide the sweets, with Jensen Cummings of Row 14 and Slotted Spoon ready to provide the savory complement. What about the wine and beer? For that, olfactory geniuses Ryan Conklin (Euclid Hall) and Kevin Burke (Colt & Gray) were ready to square off. As a brewer of beer and a lover of wine, my allegiances stood torn. On one hand, the logic in me says that wine and chocolate is nothing short of the ultimate pairing, but the craftsman in me insists that beer can (and will be) matched to anything. So, it came to this, time to settle the score; 6 rounds, one winner.
Round 1: Yeti Brownie [Hi*Rise]
Beer: Left Hand – Smoke Jumper
Wine: Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa Amabile
The competition started off with a sweet treat from Hi*Rise, the Yeti Brownie. Upon the first taste, the Smoke Jumper seemed a mighty pairing, but after tasting it with the Amabile, the Smoke Jumper simply didn’t hold up. The combined bitterness of the Yeti plus the smoked beer (“rauchbier” for you Germans) did not compliment each other they way I thought they would, instead the bitterness of both compounded upon each other and took the pairing to more extreme levels of bitterness. Conversely, the residual sugar (that’s when a wine tastes sweet) of the wine complimented the heaviness of the Yeti very, very well. Wine took this round (in its second largest overall vote) with a score of 38 to 13.
Round 2: Vanilla Ganache White Chocolate Truffle with Pretzel Topping [Ziva Chocolates]
Beer: Avery – Salvation
Wine: Alvear PX Sherry
I can only imagine what a nightmare this was to pair with, I have no doubt that both Ryan and Kevin sweated this one out for a while. White chocolate is notoriously difficult to pair with, and the savory of the pretzel could surely complicate things. On top of that, not many people knew what to expect from the sherry. Salvation complimented the hint of pretzel perfectly, and worked to stay in balance with the white chocolate. The sherry, on the other hand, seemed a little too overpowering and boozy, with a very dry finish and lots of olive flavor coming through. Again, the results showed these differences, beer won, 33 to 19.
Round 3: Dark Chocolate with Burnt Sugar Caramel [Lioni Chocolate]
Beer: Huisbrouwerij – Straffe Hendrik
Wine: Alvear PX Sherry
Round 3 pitted the same sherry as round 2 against a new beer competitor, both paring up with a dark chocolate treat featuring burnt sugar caramel on the inside. Though the sherry did do well to promote the burnt sugar flavors in the caramel, beer took this one again in a large victory, 36 to 17.
Behind the scenes, Jensen had something special coming up for Round 4 to perhaps turn the tables…
Round 4: Cocoa Dusted Pork Meatball / Parsnip Vanilla Puree, Puffed Amaranth, Chocolate BBQ Sauce, 65% Puffed Amaranth [The Pomm]
Beer: Denver Beer Co – Chipotle Cocoa Porter
Wine: Chateau Haut la Pereyre Bordeaux Rouge
Denver Beer Company produced a special beer specifically for this tasting, and for that they deserve a high five. However, when the chips fell, the complexity and body of the Bordeaux complimented Jensen’s mad-scientist creation perfectly, creating a combination that was described as a pure hedonistic delight. This round was wine’s biggest win, 39 to 15.
Round 5: Espresso Chocolate Glazed Bison Shortrib / Smoked Sea Salt, Chive, Warm Pumpkin Vinaigrette, 45% Espresso Brittle and Sea Salt [The Pomm]
Beer: Boulevard – The 6th Glass
Wine: Domaine la Janasse Cotes du Rhone Rouge
To be perfectly frank about this round, the food eclipsed both the wine and the beer, as most of the people at my table agreed. The wine and beer were both good, but the food was the real star of this round. That said, wine snuck out another victory at 27 to 23.
Take a look back for a minute, at this point in the competition, wine was winning three rounds to two; this has never happened before. Round six could either bring wine to a decisive victory, or take it to an awkward tie.
Round 6: Double Chocolate Stout Ice Cream [Sweet Action]
Wine: Argiolas Mirto Tremontis
Pause for a moment and take a good look at the photo to the right. What you’re seeing is not just Double Chocolate Ice Cream Stout. What you are seeing is Double Chocolate Ice Cream Stout plus Bacon. Not just any bacon, bacon covered in chocolate. At this point, most of us forgot about the beer and wine entirely. Everyone in the room was reduced to the level of beasts, hoisting strips of pork mightily into the air before plundering every fermented beverage in front of them. Those who retained enough of their dignity to taste the wine and beer were in for a surprise. The New Belgium beer complimented the ice cream perfectly, that was not the surprise. What was surprising were the flavors found in the wine. The wine was bitter, almost tasting of Fernet, with very strong flavors of menthol and olives. I overheard the wine described as “A wine I want to drink, not a wine I want to win”. Apparently the voters agreed, giving beer a decisive victory at 39 to 8.
What does that mean? Awkward tie time. How do we settle an awkward tie? By doing a complete recount and going with the “popular vote.” If you want, you can look up and do the math yourself from the numbers above. For those that are lazy, I’ve done the math for you:
Beer remains undefeated, though this victory was hard fought.
The real winners? You would assume that it would be all of us who attended and gorged on chocolate, beer, and wine and you would almost be correct. The real winners were Burning Through Pages, a Denver non-profit organization dedicated to the advocacy of reading and writing for our city’s youth, and that’s the truth.
Would I change anything? Sure, I probably would have put a heartier beer with the meatball dish, and a wine and chocolate pairing without a good glass of port just seems wrong, but overall, it was a great night, with my favorite moments being those of talking about what we were experiencing with our table mates. One of the joys I’ve always found with wine (and beer!) is the conversations that it inspires and the ways that different people experience it. Bringing together a group of people engaged in excellent food, beverage, and conversation will always be a great time. I look forward to seeing everyone at the next Beer vs Wine event, wherever and whenever that may be.