An Evening With a Beer Sommelier

Recently we had the opportunity to meet with Gianni Cavicchi, beer sommelier of Cafe D’Alsace who took over beer as well as wine operation of the restaurant three years ago. He treated us to a delicious meal where he showcased the strengths of the restaurant along with his pairing skills – even trying out a few new ones for us.

In the beer cellar of the restaurant

Since we normally drink American craft beers, Gianni gave us a menu that featured mainly old world beers, starting off with Josefi-Bock from Germany that he matched with light puff pastries made with gruyere. The beer had great, subtle banana flavors that played well with the light and airy puffs.

This was followed by our favorite pairing of the night, and what is now our favorite beer/food pairing ever. A plate of house-made duck sausage and boudin blanc (a white pork sausage) on sauerkraut and mashed potatoes with an Emelisse Rauchbier from the Netherlands. The duck sausage had an almost “melts in your mouth” quality and was made with green peppercorns that gave it a bit of earthy heat on the back end that was perfectly complemented by the smokiness of the Emelisse.

Duck (oh, the duck) on the left

Gianni explained to us that when pairing a food with beer, he begins with the food. “I think of the pairings as a tertiary sauce,” he noted, “it’s how it finishes.” This second course perfectly illustrated his approach of pairing the taste left in your mouth by the food with that of the beer instead of looking to always match the dominant flavors in each.

We came back to American craft with seafood sausage and Laughing Dog’s Dogfather, an imperial stout (we all loved the label). None of us had ever tried the beer but we were excited to see how it went with the scallops in the sausage. The pairing didn’t quite hit the mark as the intensity of the Dogfather overwhelmed some of the more delicate flavors in the sausage, though we revisited the beer later and found it had opened up with some new aromas. Gianni switched to a slightly sweet white wine from Alsace and some Sierra Nevada Ovila Saison (just recently released) which did  much better with the seafood.

He then asked us if we liked stew, which of course we do. So we tasted a delicious stew called Baeckeofe that was full of lamb, oxtail, pork, potatoes and onions. To pair, Gianni brought out our favorite beer of the night, a deceptively labelled Belgian mild stout called Troubadour. The beer had all the great roasted coffee, chocolate, toffee flavors of good stouts but in an amazingly delicate balance. It was great with the stew that also had complex layers of flavor to play with.

Our final pairing was a chocolate tart with a Lost Abbey Judgement Day. We had been dying to try some of Lost Abbey, and it didn’t disappoint. Judgement Day was a really big and flavorful beer, you could taste the significant addition of raisins but not the 10.5% ABV. It was great with the chocolate and a wonderful finish to our night of delicious food and beer.

Cafe D’Alsace has an extensive beer list, categorized by style, and Gianni consults with customers about beer pairings with their meals. He also encourages the servers to get involved in the pairings and give him feedback. He wants diners at the restaurant to have the best beer experience possible – as we were sitting with him, he intercepted a beer before it got to someone being served in the wrong glass.

On Friday the restaurant is holding Duck’d Up, a three course duck and beer pairing dinner. But you can get that duck sausage anytime.

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