Mmm, beer, cheese and – chocolate? Definitely, says Mike Runion, owner of 7 Seas Brewing in Gig Harbor. Finding tantalizing combinations of this food-and-drink trio is what Runion will be doing in just one of many classes at this weekend’s Gig Harbor Wine and Food Festival, held on the grounds of the Harbor History Museum.
It’s the second incarnation of a festival that sold out last year and looks to be just as popular this time around. More than 35 wineries or breweries from Washington, Oregon and California will be showing their wares alongside 21 local food merchants such as Mt. Townsend Creamery, Trop’s Chocolates and Uli’s Famous Sausages from the Pike Place Market. Kevin Gillespie, executive chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta and recent fan favorite on Bravo’s “Top Chef” program, will be the featured chef at the celebrity chef cook-off, competing against Thad Lyman of Gig Harbor’s Brix 25.
Other experts offering classes include Kris Blondin (STINK, Tacoma) on wine and cheese pairings, Steve Lynn (Morso, Gig Harbor) on wine cocktails and component tasting, and Diana Becks (The Wine Studio, Gig Harbor) on sparkling and budget wines.
One of the most intriguing classes, however, is Runion’s marriage of craft beer with artisan cheeses and chocolates. Co-presented with Justin Goodfellow from Gig Harbor’s JW Restaurant, the class features 7 Seas brews in ways you’ve probably never tasted before.
“(Justin’s) a friend of mine, and he’s always excited about exploring new things,” explains Runion, of how the two came up with the class, which will give festival-goers broad pairing ideas as well as some specific examples. “At 7 Seas we do pairing dinners throughout the year – it elevates craft beer to a new level where people can appreciate its complexity.”
It’s also a whole lot of fun, says Runion.
But how to pair beer, cheese and chocolate successfully? The secret is to match the strength of your flavors.
“Put big, bold flavors with other big, bold flavors,” Runion says. “For example, something strong like a blue cheese wouldn’t go with a pale ale; you’d put it with a Devil IPA or Imperial stout.” Pale ale, meanwhile, would work with something smoother, like brie.
And the chocolate?
“With chocolate, the espresso, roasty notes lend themselves to dark beers that have those ingrained flavors,” Runion says. “We use it with stout or porter. Our stout has a lot of burnt chocolate flavors in it. It’s like pairing port wine and chocolate.”
Runion also intends to experiment with softer flavors such as white chocolate, and flavored chocolate such as raspberry.
Sometimes, though, you just have to take chances.
“Often it’s the wild card that works the best,” says Runion. “We’re going beyond wine-and-cheese. It’s a blast. It’s about being adventurous and breaking new ground.”
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568