Behind the scenes at SoCal gourmet grocery chain Barons Market’s backroom beer-pairing session
Grocery stores are built to provide a feast for the eyes within their spacious confines. Everywhere one looks, fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood and thousands of other products (including beer) are arranged in the most appealing, attention-getting manner. A great deal of thought goes into a food store’s interior, but there’s a lot going on outside a certain Southern California grocery chain’s outposts. Enter the Barons Backroom Beer Tasting, a quarterly event where each of the chain’s five stores invites patrons to experience multiple beer-and-food pairings behind the store.
For each Backroom event, Barons collaborates with a different local brewery. Past participants have included Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment, Garage Brewing, Modern Times Beer and Rough Draft Brewing Company, representatives from each have been on-site to help present their brands in the best, most informed light. That educational element mirrors members of Barons’ staff, who explain the dishes coupled with the local brews. Those items are conjured from ingredients carried in the stores, making for pairings that are easy for attendees to replicate on the home front.
Once a brewery has been selected, key representatives from that business are invited to a pre-event pairing session at one of Barons’ locations where they are asked to bring along the beers they most want to showcase. Once on-site, the brewery reps taste through a preliminary tasting menu developed by an assortment of Barons’ culinary minds. Beers are poured into tasting glasses so the reps and roughly a dozen Barons employees from all of their stores (Point Loma, Rancho Bernardo, Alpine, Temecula, Wildomar and, soon, Murrieta) can analyze their compatibility with each dish.
I was able to sit in on the tasting session for the next Backroom event will take place on Wednesday, September 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. and feature beers from Pizza Port Brewing Company. Tickets are available at each Barons location the day-of as well as online in advance via the company’s website. The menu will be as follows:
- Organic Chickpea Soup paired with Pizza Port Chronic Amber Ale
- Goat Cheese-stuffed Sweet Petite Peppers paired with Pizza Port Ponto Session IPA
- Point Reyes Blue Cheese and Roast Beef Bites paired with Pizza Port Swami’s IPA
- Indian Lentil and Bean Dip with Pickled Jalapeño and Tacupeto Chips paired with Pizza Port Kook Double IPA
- Barons Carrot Cake paired with Pizza Port Pick Six Pilsner
As it turns out, the pre-event tasting was much more than a formality. Much connoisseurship was employed to ensure the most harmonious pairings made their way to the customer tasting. An organic kale and split pea soup was nixed in favor of the chickpea soup because its flavor profile matched the caramel notes of Pizza Port’s Chronic Amber Ale. Swami’s IPA was thought to be a shoe-in to pair with chevre-stuffed peppers, but its hoppy resinous was too overbearing while Ponto Session IPA’s dry finish helped refresh the palate for the next bite of that sweet, earthy, tart tidbit.
Cambazola cheese was subbed out in favor of Point Reyes Blue to stand up to caramelized onion sweetness that was deemed a great go-with for the displaced Swami’s. Though delicious, a lentil and bean dip was a bit tame for the Kook Double IPA, so the decision was made to add pickled jalapeño peppers to the recipe. And Pick Six Pilsner was dog-eared as a reception beer to be served on its own as guests arrived, but once Pizza Port’s reps explained what a great dessert carrot cake can be with hop-forward beers, the panel gave it a shot and a fifth pairing was added.
While Backroom events provide an opportunity for Barons and their partner breweries to market at the market, all proceeds are donated to local charities. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Barons has identified Cancer Angels of San Diego and Michelle’s Place, a Temecula-based breast cancer resources, as the beneficiaries for the Pizza Port pairing. That’s something that’s bound to leave a good taste in anyone’s mouth.
Indian Lentil and Bean Dip with Pickled Jalapeño and Tacupeto Chips
Paired with Pizza Port Kook Double IPA
1 package Tasty Bite Madras Lentils
½ cup Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
¼ cup sour cream
pickled jalapeño pepper slices
1 bag Tacupeto tortilla chips
Heat the lentils in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the cheese until melted and completely incorporated. Stir in the sour cream (add more if you prefer a creamier consistency). Top with several jalapeño slices, then serve with chips and beer.
Goat Cheese-stuffed Sweet Petite Peppers
Paired with Pizza Port Ponto Session IPA
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
⅛ tsp salt
16 sweet petite peppers
Combine the goat cheese, garlic, parsley and salt in a medium bowl and mash with a fork until all of the ingredients are completely incorporated. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the cheese mixture into each pepper. Serve with beer.
Point Reyes Blue Cheese and Roast Beef Bites
Paired with Pizza Port Swami’s IPA
3 onions, thinly sliced
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup Point Reyes Blue Cheese, crumbled
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Stoneridge Roast Beef
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange the bread in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake until lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Remove from heat and set aside.
Blend the cheeses, season with salt and pepper and mix together until smooth. Spread each slice of bread with the cheese mixture, top with roast beef and garnish with onions. Serve with beer.