As a long-time fan of Canada's Unibroue, I was excited to attend the pairing event at Chicago's Custom House this past Sunday thanks to the generous gift of my co-worker, Sarah Matthews and her talented husband and Custom House Chef de Cuisine, Richard Camarota.
House-cured Sturgeon, juniper-scented crème fraîche and mussels with orange zest, rabbit stew, sweatbreads with caramel and chestnuts, and chicken liver mousse only represent half the menu that chef Camarota paired with Unibroue's Chicago-based culinary attache and food scientist, Jim Javenkoski's flight of refermented, Belgian-style beers.
For those unfamiliar with Unibroue's portfolio, the Quebec brewery is the exclusive creator of the Trader Joe's Belgian Ale that usually lasts for about three days before selling out. But even for aficionados of the brewery, the event was an experience with range, covering everything from the fruity Éphémère, paired beautifully with a thinly-sliced pork loin, to the lighter Blanche de Chambly and the portfolio leading La Fin du Monde.
Paired with the chicken liver and oysters Rockefeller, was my favorite Unibroue, Maudite (moe-dzit). While he had our attention, Javenkoski told the tale of the label on the Maudite bottle: There's a canadian myth of a small group of fur trappers who had spent too much time in the woods. Longing for their women, they made a deal with the devil to return home for Christmas in exchange for their souls. The devil sent them paddling through the sky, with two restrictions, no drinking and no mention of the Lord's name. They failed and Maudite ("damned") salutes these men with strong Belgian Ale, which, at its inauguration, was the strongest beer in Canada at 8%.
Javenkoski also gave us the story on the artwork and graphic design that helped make Unibroue famous among beer lovers. It began with the founder, André Dion, and his desire to reflect the mythology and landscapes of French Canada with his beer. This lead him and the company's graphic designer, Pakastani-born Asaf Mirza (who even takes to hand-drawing some labels), through the troves of antique etchings and illustrations produced by generations of Canadian artists. The iconic and historical design of Unibroue's packaging is one of the most distinctive on the market, offering a story with every drink.
After the pairing event, we took the drinking back into the main dining room of the stunning Custom House to watch the last few minutes of what proved to be a depressing Packers loss to the Giants. While spirits were high, I can't say they were high enough to endure this local tragedy. While I'm not a Packers fan, I could only look on with sympathy, drinking my Unibroue Tres Pistoles while the Giants silenced Brett Favre's final, desperate shot.
Unibroue + Custom House
Jim Javenkoski + Richard Camarota
Custom House, Chicago
Jan 20, 2008