The Tasting Club imparts useful knowledge in alcohol and food pairing, while also showcasing local brands that are worthy of recognition
The evolutionary argument maintains that humans are social beings hotwired to be in groups. Isolation and the restriction of in-person gatherings are an irregularity, which are perhaps the biggest disruptions brought about by the Covid-19 health crisis. While physical meet ups are still being kept to a minimum, organizations and even entire industries have transitioned to the digital space to convene and continue operations.
The Tasting Club, a consortium of epicures on a constant quest to find premier fine spirits and food pairings in the Philippines, is among the cliques currently holding its events online with its Virtual Masterclass Program. A brainchild of French wine connoisseur Kevin Charuel and his Filipino wife Adrienne, the club was the couples’ way of building friendship, and a means to share their valuable knowledge to people about food when they moved to New York in 2016. “We all appreciate our tasting experience further when we understand more about the craft of what we eat and drink. This is a natural reaction,” Kevin beams.
“The concept really is about sharing knowledge and having fun while enjoying delicious food pairings,” says the Frenchman. The online sessions go beyond your typical tasting, where people simply eat, drink, and socialize, as the spirits savant adds a touch of technicalities through insightful conversations.
“This is something very important to me since I specialize in the wine industry with a Bachelor’s degree and I have international work experience in the field in France, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore,” Kevin intimates. The Tasting Club does not highlight a specific brand to avoid being promotional, however, there are some exceptions when the product serves the purpose of the tasting. “The purpose is really to understand the craftsmanship behind the category and we invite an expert for this,” he adds. Whenever there is a brand involved, it reflects Kevin’s skills and extensive knowledge as the products are well-curated, top-of-the-line, and truly deserving to be indulged in by discerning palettes.
In his Gin masterclass last month, Kevin talked about the history of the British alcohol, its basic manufacturing process, and types, through the multi-awarded ARC Gin. Meanwhile, to end September and greet the new month, a craft beer and artisanal cheese pairing class was held on Sept. 27, which was timely considering the Bavarian Oktoberfest.
Featured on the lecture were Olive Puentespina, founder and cheesemaker of Malagos Farmhouse, a Davao-based company that produces cheese from scratch, together with Brewmaster Ian Leigh of Crazy Carabao Brewing Co., a Laguna-based brewery specializing in craft beer.
Olive went through the meticulous process of cheesemaking from farm to table. Malagos currently has over 25 cheese variants, ranging from fresh, bloomy, washed-rind, blue-veined, and aged. Conversely, Ian discussed how their craft beer differs from commercial ones in that Crazy Carabao is brewed conservatively utilizing only the most essential ingredients, namely water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. The brew is labor-intensive and made in small batches, resulting in a more flavor-forward and compounded beer, which is far and away from your regular booze.
With a much wider flavor range than wine, craft beer is becoming a potent pairing partner for the fermented food. Beer also has a frothiness that cuts through the richness of cheese. Kevin imparts that the flavors of beer and cheese can either be balanced to complement or contrast one another, similar to pairing food with wine.
Here is a brief rundown of the fantastic pairings between Crazy Carabao beers and Malagos cheeses, which we had one fine Sunday evening. It is also worth noting that Kevin ships the products to the participants in a simple yet secure packaging.
Pilsner and Anmari
The ever popular Pinoy favorite lager, Pilsner has placid toasted malt notes—mainly because it is 100 percent made from the cereal grain—with a touch of lemon grass and bergamot zest, as well as spicy herbal taste. Anmari is a creamy cow’s-milk cheese basket-molded by hand, coaxed to develop a layer of white mold, and aged for six months. The aging process makes the cheese incredibly creamy with a bold and complex mushroom-y flavor. Each nibble coats the tongue with a lank umami profile, evened out with a sip of the beer that cleanses the palate making you want more cheese, ultimately creating an endless cycle of Anmari and liquor decadence.
Pale Ale and Queso Rustico
A take on the classic American pale ale with citrus and pine hops, Pale Ale is another slightly bitter beer. The Queso Rustico is cow’s-milk cheese with mild nutty taste and a hard outer rind. The bitterness of the beverage enhances the cheese’s sweet note and savory flavor.
Wheat and Feta Tricolore
The beer is loaded with wheat, hops, and coriander showcases an orange and banana esters aroma, and a subtle citrus and clove flavor. The Feta Tricolore a savory version of the old classic, is made from goat’s milk infused with fresh rosemary and pepper flakes. It is tangy and crumbly. The wheat beer’s smoothness offsets the feta’s sharpness, and its light piquant taste brings out the fruitiness of the alcohol.
Golden Ale and Ingrid’s Rosemary
The ale with pale malt and Australian hops has a fruity, light, and floral taste. Ingrid’s Rosemary, on the other hand, is a semi-soft cow’s-milk cheese in the style of Gouda and aged with fresh rosemary for at least 90 days, which amplifies the cheese’s tangy-sweet creaminess with its zest and fragrance. Both are floral in taste with a hint of bitterness. Their similar intensity enables them to meld harmoniously.
India Pale Ale (IPA) and Borracho
The IPA is a stronger, bolder brew made with North American hops and British malts. It has an initial sweetness, intense tropical-fruit notes, and a bitter finish. This could be considered the star drink of the night, and arguably the best among the bunch. Borracho is a goat’s cheese washed with dark beer and aged for a minimum of three months. The oiliness and saltiness of the Borracho clash with the more intense flavors of the IPA. And while the two fall at opposite ends of the taste spectrum, they make a perfect contrasting pair.
“As the food pairing dimension is also key to our concept, we always do our best to offer delightful food and spirits, and educate on the pairing part. I feel there is still a lot more to share about pairings in the Philippines because many foodies here are not used yet to the concept of pairing,” says Kevin, adding that general rules do not apply to everyone as we all have unique palates that can appreciate exceptional pairings. “In short the guidelines are there to help you, rather than to limit you. At the end of the day, the point of trying different pairings is to see what tastes good to you, and that’s a very personal thing.”
The Tasting Club plans on doing more collaborations with chefs, cheesemakers, and food experts. It also has more events lined up this month such as the French wine and cheese tasting on the Oct. 17, an Italian aperitivo event on Oct. 24, and a French gastronomy class within the month. Go to its social media pages for updates and to sign up the next session.