For obvious reasons, I was unable to attend most of the events for San Antonio Beer Week, but as I was in San Antonio Saturday morning for the Freetail Brewing bottle release, I decided to hang around and attend Sweet & Sour, A sour beer and cupcake pairing put on by Jeremey Banas of Ruination Press and Michelle Solis of Sweet Fuzion and Bake, Boil, Brew. I love sour beers and cupcakes, so really it was a no-brainer.
I was accompanied by the fabulous Christine, a cupcake maker herself, along to San Antonio for the days’ events, you will notice her comments are along side mine. Jeremy spent a few minutes explaining the different types of sour beers and their different brew processes, which ones are blended or not, aged in barrels, etc. He went over 6 styles: Berliner Weissbier, Lambic, Fruit Lambic, Gueuze, Flanders Red Ale and Flanders Oud Bruin. I have already had all the beers we tried, but I was interested to see how the cupcake selections would pair with the different beers.
Christine’s initial comments: “Let me begin by saying that I am in no way a professional cook. But I will say that I am a damn good one. When Leslie told me about this event, I was really excited. I LOVE to cook and bake with beer. And I don’t mean “shove a Bud up a chicken’s ass and cook”. I am no stranger to making cupcakes using beer, my favorite chocolate cake recipe uses Porter in the batter.”
1st PairingBeer: New Belgium La Folie (2011)
Cupcake: Blue cheese, fig, purple onion and cream cheese frosting
Leslie: Even though I have had the La Folie (2011 and 2010) before and loved it I was very curious to see how a fig/blue cheese/onion cupcake would pair (and taste) with the beer. La Folie is a Flanders Red Ale (according to BA, but New Belgium calls it a Sour Brown Ale), 6% ABV and brewed with Target hops and Pale, Munich, Carpils, C-80, Chocolate malts. This beer ages in French Oak barrels for anywhere from one to three years. I like this sour because it is very well balanced, not too tart, a dry finish, medium carbonation and an apple sweet and sour element along with the usual cherry taste found in sours. The cupcake was lacking the fig that was purported to be in there, but the blue cheese was very prevalent. I love purple onions, but I think maybe they should have been grated or pureed into the cupcake, rather than having strings mixed in. the cream cheese frosting was a nice sweet element, though if the figs had been a stronger element the cream cheese may have been too sweet. I like the idea of a savory cupcake and especially a savory cupcake to pair with the sour beer, but I think the execution was a bit lacking in this instance.
Christine: It was too sweet and the fig taste was no where to be found. I know that it was supposed to be a Sour & Sweet pairing but there are so many interpretations of sweet. I think something like a lemon cupcake with raspberry filling would have been a much better pairing.
2nd PairingBeer: Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne
Cupcake: Caramel Apple
Leslie: This is another Flanders Red Ale at 6.2% that I have been able to try previously at various bottle shares. It is very effervescent, has a sour and sweet aroma and a nice sour bite as you drink it. It is well-rounded with a dry finish and sweet citrus and cherry fruit flavors. The cupcake paired with this beer was a caramel apple cupcake. It was very sweet and the caramel frosting was super rich and the icing was sticky to the point of coating the roof of my mouth. I am not a huge fan of chunks of fruit in my cake style desserts and this had apple chunks. The apple flavor may have been more detectable had they been pureed or used in a different application. I feel like this pairing was on the safe side, complementing the beer but not really showing the different possibilities of pairing sweets with sour beers.
Christine: The beer tasted kind of like a cider so [the pairing] made sense. The cake itself had nice chunks of apple but could have used some more spice. The frosting was painfully sweet. I think a spicier cake and a milder frosting would have paired much better with the beer.
3rd PairingBeer: Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
Cupcake: Strawberry, rhubarb, balsamic vinegar and cream cheese frosting
Leslie: A big thanks to Jeremy for his hard work to get this beer that is unavailable in Texas; he used Half Time Beverage out of New York. This beer is considered an American Wild Ale (according to BA, thought the Jolly Pumpkin website calls it an “amber ale brewed in the Flanders tradition”) which are characterized by the use of Brettanomyces (and other wild yeast strains), it is 7.2% ABV, unfiltered and made by blending barrels that are anywhere from two to ten months old. La Roja is well carbonated, light-bodied and complex in a chaotic way. There is a funky element, dark fruits and sour cherry tastes and some spices as well. It doesn’t seem to all work together very well. The cupcake sounds like it would be an amazing combination of unconventional flavors, but upon tasting it, I didn’t get any of the flavors, except for a slight hint of the balsamic vinegar. If the other flavors had been more pronounced I am sure that it would have been a good pairing, because of the different acidic elements.
Christine: I could honestly not even tell you what [the cupcake] tasted like. I really assumed it was some sort of wheat or grain cake. There was not a speck of fruit in the cake and the balsamic was non-existent. It was paired with cream cheese frosting again.
4th PairingBeer: Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V. Grand Cru
Cupcake: Dark chocolate, Bing cherries, bittersweet chocolate chips and cream cheese frosting
Leslie: I have been lucky enough to try a 2008 vintage of the Grand Cru on my recent trip to San Diego, and loved it. This year’s version didn’t seem quite as puckering as the 2008, but I assume that has to do with age. The beer is 6% ABV and falls into the aforementioned Flanders Red Ale category; light-bodied, very carbonated, and of course the cherry/raspberry tart sour flavors. Jeremy brought these beers back from California after attending the Craft Brewers Conference, since it is not readily available here in Texas. I thought the cupcake tasted great and the cherry element complemented the beer well. A pairing with something other than cherry may have been better, so you could see the range of pairing options, not just the obvious.
Christine: This cupcake was the best tasting of the bunch. I would have liked the cherry to be more pronounced. The piece I got was very small. It was topped with you guessed it, cream cheese frosting. While the cupcake itself was good, it did not pair with the beer at all.
Admittedly, my thoughts probably come off as a harsh review, but I want to say that there were a few things that played into my opinions on this event. I have had all the beers at the event, so my main focus was not reviewing the beers, but seeing how the cupcakes were paired with them. Like Christine, I was a bit disappointed that three of the cupcakes used a basic cream cheese frosting and not something more creative. I was also uncomfortable going into the event because it was so hot and humid (Yes, I’ve lived in Texas all my life. No, I will not get over it ever.) and that definitely detracted from the event, since the venue did not have proper air conditioning.
Jeremy did an excellent job of getting locally available sours mixed with some that are not, in case people want to buy the beers for themselves, or seek out new ones. He also did a great job introducing the beers and explaining the styles. I know they both put in a huge effort to make this event happen and I applaud that.
As Christine noted, there are many interpretations of both “sweet” and “sour” when it comes to food and beer, so we were expecting different flavors based on our palates. Christine is not a sweets eater, but I definitely am, so even our opinions on what cupcakes would pair well with the beers was different. We were also surprised that Michelle didn’t take more time to explain the ingredients in the cupcakes (though it seems obvious) or why she chose that particular recipe to pair with the beers, as that may have cleared up the differences in opinion for us. These types of events are highly subjective, just like wine pairings, but if you have good reasoning for the pairings then whether people like it or not is a moot point.