Friday, April 15, 2011
Niagara College Teaching Brewery now open for business
I thought that title would catch your eye! Let me be the first to admit two things: first, this column will have nothing whatsoever to do with music or the arts this week, which does occasionally happen; and second, I have never become a beer drinker. My Dad used to brew the stuff in the basement at our home in Toronto years ago, and from all reports from all the kids in the neighbourhood who seemed to frequent our place when a new batch was ready for tasting, it was pretty potent stuff. Me, I never developed a taste for it, really, but then, I am more of a tea drinker than anything else these days. That being said, I was invited by my good friend Lynn Ogryzlo, local food afficionado of the highest order, to attend the opening of the new Teaching Brewery at Niagara College this past Wednesday evening and stay for the Brewmaster Dinner planned that evening. Lynn has the inside track on these things at the College as her husband Jon is Dean of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute at Niagara College. It was an evening of great food, interesting beer and a significant upgrade of my own knowledge of the drink forever associated with Canadians. When I arrived late afternoon, just after the skies started to finally dry up, I was immediately ushered into the new brewery location on campus, where the First Draft Campus Brew is made. There, Kevin Somerville, who is an on-site Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Manager for the new operation, gave us the grand tour and described in minute detail how the process works and we achieve a fine local brew you can buy on-site and take home with you. It is a fascinating story, and although I couldn't possibly absorb all the information, I managed to grasp at least a basic understanding of the brewing process as it applies to the Niagara College operation. Kevin, young though he is, knows his product well and should go far in the beer industry should he choose to. After awhile it was off to the newly-renovated and reopened Benchmark Restaurant, a space I have enjoyed many a fine dinner at in the past before the most recent makeover. The head chef and professor in the Culinary Arts programme at Niagara College, Michael Olson, presided over the Brewmaster Dinner much as a proud father shows off his young family to visitors, making sure to introduce individually each of the ten student chefs hard at work in the kitchen for the event, as well as the regular and volunteer wait staff for the evening. Michael also went to great lengths to explain each course as each individual brewmaster described the beer they had provided to be paired with each dish. Okay, so what did we have, you ask. I can't believe I'm doing this, but here is a rundown of the evening's food and beer pairings, just in case you are wondering what you missed: First course: Terrine of Quebec Foie Gras with Spent Grains Brioche and Bok Jelly, paired with Niagara College Teaching Brewery Educator Dopple Bock. The Foie Gras was to die for, the Dopple Bock very dark and rich, and I actually enjoyed it! Second course: Erie Whitefish "Waterzui" with Hothouse Peppers, Yukon Gold Potatoes and Sweet Shallots in an aromatic coriander citrus beer broth, paired with Muskoka Summer Weiss beer. The whitefish was wonderfully moist and tender, and the broth was very fragrant and light. The beer was about as light and summery a brew as I've ever experienced. Palate cleanser: Wort Sorbet, light and refreshing and using a byproduct of the brewing process. Third course: Roast Tenderloin of Black Angus Beef on Barley Root Vegetable Stew and roasted Garlic Lemon Hollandaise, paired with Neustadt 10W30 Brown Ale. The tenderloin was just that, very tender, but I would have preferred it cooked just a little more, but it was a magnificent dish. The appropriately named beer, very dark and robust, proved a bit too bitter for my tastes, but you can't help but love the name! Fourth course: Black Forest Bok Washed Niagara Gold Cheese with Rye Toast and Thyme Honey, followed by Dark Prinz Espresso Torte with Laurel Cream, paired with Russian Gun Imperial Stout. The first dish, summery and light, was a delight, with the Niagara Gold Cheese truly extraordinary; the espresso tort was so rich many couldn't finish even the small slice supplied, but it was worth trying for sure, and yes, I did finish mine! The Imperial Stout was a beer that ensured a strong finish to the evening, and although it was quite dark, I found it smoother and easier on the palate than the Neustadt. So, there you have it, my culinary column, which has to be a first! But, I love good food and some of the wonderful places to visit for same in Niagara and beyond, so as Shakespeare wrote, "If music be the food of love, play on!" Perhaps I will write about food again sometime. In the meantime, my heartfelt thanks to Lynn and husband Jon for inviting me, and Michael and his charges for putting on a spectacular show. Although they can't promise a grand dinner on that scale all the time, the Benchmark Restaurant is a great destination for either lunch or dinner, and the new brewery operation makes it all the more worthwhile to pay them a visit at Niagara College. Bon appetit! April 15th, 2011.