*Guest Post by Natalie Taylor*
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, let me say this: breakups suck. My last ex was no exception. But we all learn from our relationships and one of the key pieces of knowledge he imparted me with was a true appreciation for craft beer. So when I got the invite to try 2016 Goose Island Gillian (aka “Gillian”), a Belgian-style farmhouse ale from their Vintages line alongside a 3-course tasting prepared by renowned Chef Victor Barry of Piano Piano — I was stoked! I love sours, I hadn’t been to Piano Piano and you don’t need to ask me twice to participate in day drinking. Done!
ABOUT GOOSE ISLAND GILLIAN
Gillian is a Belgian farmhouse ale and part of Goose Island’s “Five Sisters” vintage line: wild fruit ales aged in wine barrels. Blended with white pepper, honey, and strawberries, it goes through three rounds of fermentation that can take up to three months each, making the total fermentation process about 10 months to develop the complexity of the beer. Fun fact: 40 to 50 pounds of strawberries goes into each batch of Gillian and the skins of the strawberries stay on during fermentation to make it the wild ale or saison that it is (beer education brought to you by Michelle Tham, Certified Cicerone® and Head of Education at Labatt Breweries of Canada — file under: cool jobs I may want to have one day).
Tasting Notes: When I first tasted the beer, I immediately noticed that it was light for a sour that is so complex. What’s interesting about Gillian is that as soon as you taste it, the scrubby bubbles in the ale wipe your palate clean; when you taste it again – depending on what you’re eating – you’ll get different notes from the beer. The strawberry notes in the first course (see below for full food pairing details) were replaced with peppery spice in the second course. Dessert lent itself to an earthier taste when pairing honey cake, almonds, and a fatty cheese (there’s no other way, friends!). Throughout our meal we noticed the acidity of the beer cutting through the fat. Tham says, “it’s has an effervescent taste of champagne; a gateway to beer for those who love wine.” Overall, I thought: Tart. Light. Sweet. Complex.
FOODS PAIRINGS WITH GILLIAN AT PIANO PIANO
Beginning in February for a limited time (or until it sells out), you can try a bottle of Gillian paired with curated menu items at the following Toronto restaurants: Carbon Bar, Drake One Fifty, Piano Piano and Victor. I chose to dine at Piano Piano for many reasons: Victor Barry’s impeccable technique in Italian cooking was the main one. I can happily report that Barry did not disappoint. His inspiration from Gillian was fourfold:
1. Its’ acidity
2. The white pepper notes
3. Its’ sweetness
4. Its’ texture – lively and effervescent
Says, Barry: “My style is savoury. Though I mainly cook Italian, I wanted to try French cuisine because I thought the fat in those dishes would pair well with the beer.” And that it did. The acidity of the ale cut through the fattiness of each dish, the bubbles wiped our palates clean and different flavour profiles were highlighted throughout the progression of our meal…
FIRST COURSE: FOIE GRAS PARFAIT
I certainly saw this contrast of flavour and palate cleansing in Barry’s Foie Gras Parfait, his take on liver and onions. Paired with maitake mushrooms, maple syrup, and smoked bacon (HOUSE MADE BACON), this dish had an earthy quality to it and the butter and richness paired really nicely with the acidity of Gillian. If you have the chance to try this dish, I highly recommend it, as it’s not on the regular menu I’m calling Barry out to put it on! It was such a treat.
SECOND COURSE: PUMPKIN AGNOLOTTI
Barry added some dimension to this menu staple, adding the bacon to his ricotta, pepper, pumpkin seed, and sage agnolotti topped with amaretti cookie. The crunch and texture of this dish paired perfectly with the Gillian. My notes on this dish were that it tasted like October or a crisp autumn day. The sourness in the pumpkin matched the sourness of the beer; the lightness of the beer contrasts with the heaviness of the pasta and gives the experience a nice balance. From sweet to spicy, the complexity of the beer comes out after a while of it being oxidized.
THIRD COURSE: CRISP OLIVE OIL CAKE
A note on desserts: is it just me or are dessert portions either super tiny or way too large so you feel either not satisfied enough or too full? Barry plays Goldilocks in the dessert department and gets it just right! Rosewood honey is topped on the olive oil cake with a small sampling of honey-covered almonds and alongside a fatty, Grey Owl goat’s cheese from Quebec. This is a really nice substitution from a French cheese like a Chateau de Bourgogne, the richness and tanginess of Grey Owl complements the sourness and crispness of Gillian with the additions of the sweetness and stickiness of the almonds and cake. Such a simple dessert. Such complex flavours.
Drooling yet? If you want to try this tasting menu yourself, head on over to Piano Piano Feb 6-19th ($49/person) for a feast. And make sure to pair it with a bottle of Gillian ($60)!
ONE DAY RETAIL SALE AT LCBO’S SUMMERHILL LOCATION
If you miss your chance to try Goose Island’s Gillian at one of the restos participating in the limited pairing experience, the beer will be sold exclusively at LCBO’s Summerhill location in Toronto on Wed. Feb 8th for $34.95. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. and it will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Get more than one because you’ll drink it fast!
Thank you to Goose Island and to Victor and Brendan at Piano Piano for this special tasting experience of Gillian in Toronto. As always, all reviews and opinions are my own.