In November, Whole Foods Market opened a new location on Post Oak, and in this location also opened its first brewery, making and selling its own, original beers under the WFM Brewing label. You may recall that around this time, I attended a meet-and-greet beer pairing dinner with brewmaster Dave Ohmer. Fast-forward a few months later, and Whole Foods has decided to make the beer pairings a monthly event: On the first Thursday of each month, Whole Foods will host a dinner at the Post Oak location with a menu chosen and prepared in-house by Executive Chef Josh Shobe, paired with a series of beers from WFM Brewing or another local brewery. (With each course, Shobe and Ohmer explained their decision-making on each item and the process of cooking or brewing it.) I was able to attend the first such dinner on Thursday, and it was quite a treat, a five-course meal (not including the salad) with well-chosen pairings. More on the experience below.
I've liked Ohmer's work so far with WFM generally, and I appreciate his goals and philosophy in brewing, but it still bears mentioning that I think the brews at WFM are getting better. This batch was not only a wider variety of in-house beers than I had seen at one time in the past, but the beers also had more distinctive and unique flavors to them. In contrast to the first pale ale he made, where he admittedly didn't get the strong nose he was looking for, the IPA this time around (named Maori Queen, for its combination of New Zealand hops and English malt) has a very powerful citrus nose, but one which still gave way to a lighter, crisper beer. The Get to the Root amber ale brewed with ginger root and toasted oak spirals was a nice touch; the flavors were subtle enough to not overwhelm the amber body, but instead provided nice grace notes over the course of a sip.
The most noteworthy beer on the night was the barleywine; much like Saint Arnold's 20th Anniversary Ale, it marks a return to maltier barleywine and away from hoppier, grassier versions; in addition to the rich malt flavor, the barleywine had some subtle, fruity hints, and went down surprisingly smooth for a beer that checks in at 11.3% ABV.
The barleywine was served with roasted marrow and a cherry jam; the full body of the barleywine made for an appropriate complement to the marrow, while the cherry jam magnified the sweeter hints in the barleywine. The amber ale was paired with a Sriracha tuna tartare served on wontons; the tuna was perfectly smooth, while the heat from the Sriracha made an ideal prompt for a sip of amber.
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Two of the pairings included food made in part with the beer in question: The Flat Out Stout was paired with a tempura lobster bisque made with the stout. This gave the bisque more roasted hints than the expected creaminess of a bisque-- not to say that's a bad thing. The IPA was served with rack of lamb, lemon and sour cream potatoes, and minted arugula, as well as a sauce made from the IPA. Even without the sauce, the citrus flavors in the IPA picked up the hints in the lamb and potatoes very well. Dessert was not a pairing, but an ice cream float made from the Instant Karma chai porter, with salted caramel gelato, blackberries, and white chocolate flakes-- a terrific pairing, and a surprising one to me: the initial menu specified vanilla bean gelato and raspberries, and while I would have thought the salted caramel gelato would have offered too much flavor and conflicted with the porter, the dish worked very well.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the dinner, a relatively small affair this time around (I counted 20 people or so), turned out to be a good way to meet fellow food and drink enthusiasts. I sat across from Chris and Joyce: he was a beer enthusiast who bought tickets to the dinner when he was filling a growler earlier in the week, and while she was more of a wine enthusiast, she was still game for a dinner pairing. My conversation with them over the course of the evening was both educational-- I learned more about food and wine, especially cooking, and it encouraged me that other people were responding to the food and drink pairings similarly-- and entertaining. (In fact, the Barleywine didn't have a name, and Ohmer encouraged the guests to brainstorm one, preferably in conjunction with the food pairing. Chris came up with the winner, "Jam Bone.") While the food and the beer were successes, and the pairings well-chosen, I was also reminded that a great dinner isn't just made up of good food, good drink, and good pairings, but good company and good conversation as well.
The next three beer dinner pairings have been scheduled, for the first Thursday of each month: March will feature beers from Buffalo Bayou, April will return to the WFM Brewing lineup, and May will highlight Southern Star beers on its menu.