Master sommelier Elizabeth Schweitzer decapitated a bottle of champagne with a saber, reenacting a pre-battle ritual that dates to the days of Napoleon. This dramatic gesture signaled the start of “Men are from Malt, Woman are from Vinos”, a fundraiser for College of the Canyons Culinary Arts Program that pitted Beer vs. Wine in a democratic six-course duel. Every guest got a beer and wine pairing with each course, along with a vote. Beer got off to a slow start, but ended up dominating wine at CoC’s Institute for Culinary Education (iCUE).
Organizer Gev Kazanchyan is a Professor of Culinary Sanitation, Environmental Health, Food Safety at College of the Canyons. He assembled an esteemed crew of participants. The person in charge of wine pairing was Elizabeth Schweitzer, L.A.’s only master sommelier and one of only eight female master sommeliers on the planet.
Team Beer consisted of six local experts: Manneken-Brussel Imports & Lost Coast Brewery rep Jay Baum, Beachwood BBQ chef-owner Gabe Gordon, Blue Palms Brewhouse proprietor Brian Lenzo, Stone Brewing Co. sales rep Nate Sellergren, Verdugo Bar/The Surly Goat co-owner Ryan Sweeney and Tony’s Darts Away head bartender David Watrous. Sweeney is a certified cicerone, and Lenzo, Sellergren and Watrous are all home brewers.
Leading up to the event, CoC polled the 90 paid attendees to see whether they Team Beer and Team Wine would be competing on a level playing field. Only one more person stated a preference for wine over beer. CoC invited me to attend the event.
At the event, each diner received a clicker that digitally tallied preferences for each round. Clicking “1” was a vote for wine, “2” was a vote for beer and “3” stated no preference. After each round, the percentage in each category was projected on screen for all to see.
College of the Canyons culinary instructors prepared the food – Daniel Otto, Cindy Schwanke, Michelle Razzano and David Binkle – and culinary students worked the event. Each team chose three of the six courses. The first course was courtesy of Team Wine: Saga Blue triple creme brie with cherry jam and grilled crostini.
Each side took turns explaining their pairing as each course appeared. Team Wine was really just Schweitzer, so she presented every wine pairing.
Schweitzer began by saying, “When we are matching wine and beer, we are looking for some correlation of flavor…when you’re pairing, we want to see the flavors contrast each other or have similar flavors. Either way works.” She paired Saga Blue with a 2007 Tempranillo Rioja from The Flying Winemaker, “a soft red wine with good acidity” and bitter cherry notes.
Team Beer took turns presenting, beginning with David Watrous. Beer’s first pairing was Dworp lambic, a sour kriek. “The cheese is very creamy, so the acidity of the beer should cut through,” he said. “Cherries were added during secondary fermentation and the lambic was barrel aged for 12 months in Belgium.
Drumroll…and…the crowd voted 66% wine, 27% beer and 7% no preference. Wine 1, Beer 0.
Team Beer’s cheese was a semi soft cow’s milk made in the French Alps called Tomme de Savoie, plated with apricot chutney, toasted rye crackers and mint, to name just three elements.
Schweitzer paired a 2007 Evodia Grenache from Calatayud, Spain. “Spanish wines tend to be food friendly,” she said, pointing out American oak aging, spiciness and acidity. “What we’re trying to do is stimulate your palate,” said Schweitzer, emphasizing different flavors and textures.
Nate Sellergren, sales rep from Stone Brewing, presented Saison Rue, 8.5% ABV. Saisons are a style of Belgian/French farmhouse ale. Sellergren said this particular saison, from The Bruery, uses rye malt for a dry finish. Brettanomyces contributes a mild sour flavor.
In this case, the crowd voted 30% wine, 63% beer and 7% no preference. Wine 1, Beer 1.
For the first main course, Team Wine selected Fleur de Sel crusted Chilean sea bass with shallot and fig polenta, a bed of baby mache and kumquat black truffle vinaigrette. Her wine pairing was 2008 O’Reilly Pinot Noir from Oregon, an effort to showcase contrasting flavor profiles. In her opinion, “Soft acidity adds another dimension to the dish.”
Brian Lenzo, proprietor of Blue Palms, presented Unibroue La Fin du Monde, a Belgian style tripel from Quebec. He touted “esters and fruit flavors, and a Champagne lightness.” The beer offered spice from coriander, and orange peel was designed to pair with the dish’s kumquat.
The crowd voted 30% wine, 59% beer and 11 no preference. Beer 2, Wine 1.
For their savory selection, Team Beer went with braised wild boar shoulder with ricotta salata cake, tropical spicy relish and basil.
Schweitzer opted to pair the pork with 2008 Red Rock Merlot from California, “full bodied, with a bit of spiciness.”
Gabe Gordon from Beachwood BBQ presented Kern River Just Outstanding IPA, which offered a “citrusy bitter finish designed to pair with spiciness of boar.”
The crowd voted 36% wine, 56% beer and 8% no preference. Beer 3, Wine 1.
For their dessert, Team Wine chose Asian Pear Tarte Tatin with butterscotch ice cream, a dried pear disc and a white chocolate triangle.
Schweitzer paired 2005 Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer from Alsace, a “fragrant wine with candied pear.” Gewurz means “spice” in German.
Ryan Sweeney presented St. Louis Kriek, a 4.5% ABV fruit Lambic from Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck in Ingelmuster, Belgium. Team Beer wanted to demonstrate that krieks can range from sour to sweet. “Butterscotch is not a flavor that we like in beer,” said Sweeney. However, he predicted “Acidity will cut through the fat.”
The crowd voted 31% wine, 58% beer and 11% no preference. Beer 4, Wine 1.
Finally, Team Beer decided on a ginger snap & coffee crusted molasses cheesecake with coffee ice cream.
Schweitzer selected a 2007 Jocelyn Lonen Chardonnay from Carneros.
Jay Baum, a former brewmaster, presented Chimay Grande Reserve from Baileux, Belgium. Blue started as a Christmas ale in the ’50s, then made Chimay’s regular roster. Baum said, “The spiciness and peppery aspect complements ginger and coffee.”
According to the crowd, it was 33% wine, 58% beer and 9% no preference. The final score was 5-1 beer.
All of the wines and beers that were poured during the event are readily available, which the organizers thought was important. In order to remain relevant and practical, beers were limited to $30 per bottle and wine is limited to $45 per bottle. In most cases, the beer and wine bottles didn’t come close to that amount, and in a couple instances, they retail for less than $10. Instead of resorting to obscure beers, Lenzo proudly stated, “We brought beers that are palatable and easy to access.”. Schweitzer sourced all of her wines locally, at All Corked Up.
Team Beer and Team Wine (Schweitzer) just did battle, but still graciously posed together for a group photo. “I’m not sure if people will go to the store and buy these beers, but I think we changed people’s perceptions,” said Sweeney, who was especially proud of the fact that members of the beer community came together and won as a group.
There’s talk that Team Beer will take on a new wine-fueled challenger during L.A. Beer Week.