Last week I received an email from Amy over at Rochester A-List about a Victory Beer Pairing at Johnny’s Irish Pub on Culver Rd in Rochester. She asked if I had heard anything about their monthly beer pairing events, that they seemed to be pretty popular. I hadn’t, but my interest was piqued, so I called some friends and we made plans to attend.
When we stopped in, a little before 7pm, the place was full but not crowded. My first time at Johnny’s, I took a minute to survey the area… A quick assessment of the beer selection told me I was among friends. The bar was inviting, softly lit and surrounded by the smiling faces of patrons out enjoying their Thursday night. A handful of tables surrounding the bar, and more in an adjoining room, sat small groups of people already enjoying the featured menu. Dinner started at 5, and we hadn’t made reservations, so I was a little nervous that we’d miss out on the beer pairing… luckily there was a table free and we were able to sit right down.
The four course meal started with an appetizer of Cajun breaded fried pickles (made with homemade dill pickles!) and served with a Dijon IPA mustard. They paired it with Victory’s Ranch Double IPA (9%ABV), well balanced with plenty of citrus notes and a dry, hop finish, this is definitely one to keep an eye out for in the future. The Ranch series features a fixed recipe, with the exception of the hops, which Victory changes with each batch in order to highlight different hop varieties. The Ranch name comes from the fact that they’re working with several family-owned hop farms and ranches out of the Pacific Northwest to source traditional and experimental hops for this recipe. The fried pickles were a good match, and the spicy Cajun flavor provided just enough kick to set off the hops in the beer. Overall, the beer was the star of this pairing. I actually enjoyed it more on its own than with the appetizer.
As we were finishing up our appetizer, Johnny came by to introduce himself and see how were enjoying the pairing. He talked a little about how Chris, their chef, had prepared for the event, and listened eagerly as we shared our first impressions. We talked beer for a bit, homebrewing and local breweries, before our next course arrived and he left us to our meal.
Next up was a sausage and ham Spanakopita served with a side of German potato salad, and paired with Moonglow Weizenbock (8.7% ABV). This dark amber wheat beer, with fruity and spicy aromas, is brewed in the traditions of true Bavarian weizenbocks. The acidic vinegar flavors in German potato salad blended magically with the fruitiness of the weizenbock. This is an instance where food and beer work perfectly together. On its own, this would not be a beer that I would go for. The spicy fruit notes have an almost rotten sweetness that I can’t get into. Same goes for the potato salad, it was good, but the pairing really takes both to the next level. It’s moments like this that really make me appreciate the complexities of craft beer.
The main course was top round London broil atop smoked bacon, served with a Grand Marnier au-poivre, and again, chef Chris nailed it with the pairing! The creamy richness of the sauce and the fatty bacon, along with the slight toughness of the steak, paired perfectly with Victory’s Scarlet Fire Raunchbier (6.1% ABV).
Last but not least, dessert was served. A moist double layer chocolate cake with chocolate espresso frosting, served with StormKing Stout (9.1% ABV), a Russian Imperial stout. One of my favorite beer and food pairings, stouts and chocolate cake are a match made in beer heaven! A rich and substantial stout, the Storm King features a pretty substantial hop aroma that’s backed by delicious roasty malt flavors. Roasted malts are a perfect pair with the bittersweet chocolate flavors in the cake. If you’ve never tried a combo like this, you are missing out! Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout (5% ABV) is another fine match for chocolate cake, and a good choice if you’re looking for a stout with a lower alcohol content than a Russian Imperial.
All around, this was a great beer and food pairing. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Man, I’m totally bummed that I missed such a kick ass beer event at a great local bar in Rochester!”, fear not… Johnny’s Irish Pub will be hosting another beer pairing event this month, Thursday, Dec 27, this time with Brooklyn Brewery! Keep an eye out for details on the Johnny’s Pub website or their facebook page. If you’re interested in going, call (585) 224-0990 to make reservations. (They accept walk-ins but only while supplies last!)
PS. Here’s another event, happening this week, at Johnny’s that you may be interested in!