Whole Foods Market Beer Dinners: What to Expect
At first, the setting of a WFM beer dinner feels exactly like you’d imagine eating dinner overlooking a Whole Foods would feel: eco-chic and a little sterile. That tone was softened by the gift bags filled with organic snacks and brewmaster Dave Ohmer rocking a felt fedora, complete with a German flag colored band and a feather. The beers and the food pairings, all brewed and prepared at the Post Oak Whole Foods Market location, were coordinated by Dave and Chef Josh Shobe, each with an Oktoberfest theme. The featured brewery and food pairings are different at every event. At the start of each course, Josh would present the food and Dave would give some details about the beer. Personally, I don’t know a crostini from a cornichon (both words I learned that night), but I’m fascinated by how different food and beer flavors interact. In the end, I’m a beer nerd. I was definitely there for the beer.
1st Course: Autumn Kolsch paired with smoked trout and bean puree, picked carrot, and a pretzel crostini
This beer has an Oktoberfest grain and hop bill, but it is fermented with a Kolsch yeast strain. Due to the Oktoberfest grain bill, it’s much darker than a traditional Kolsch. It has a light body and a sweet biscuity finish. It’s quite balanced and easy to drink. They brought this beer out well in advance of the first course, and I had to pace myself so that I would have enough beer left to drink alongside the food. The smoke of the trout added to the “fallness” of the beer. It made me look forward to enjoying that first backyard campfire of the year. I didn’t really notice the lingering sweetness of the beer until I got to the carrot. The vinegar cut the sweetness and in the next sip of beer, the sweetness was accentuated. This became a fun little game of killing and accenting the sweetness until I ran out of carrot.
2nd Course: Real Deal Stout & a duck confit stuffed potato dumpling in broth
This beer was a collaboration with Real Ale Brewing Company in Blanco. Along with the typical roasted malt, they included oats in the grain bill. This isn’t the thick bodied stout that Houston’s beer nerds have been clamoring for, but it’s very close. In stouts, there’s an ideal ratio of chocolate and coffee flavors. Too much coffee can be harsh and too much chocolate can turn an otherwise full bodied beer cloyingly sweet. This hits that ratio right down the centerline. From the first sip, I knew we were taking home a crowler. The dumpling was the size of a baseball and it was very hearty. The combination of a stout and a meaty dish almost always works. After a stein full of beer and a 9% stout, the crowd definitely got louder and the atmosphere softened quite a bit.
3rd Course: Hop Explorer VI & a veil schnitzel, potato/celery root puree, and a runny quail egg
In the Hop Explorer series, WFM Brewing takes the same grain bill and plays with different hops. As the name suggests, this is their sixth variation, brewed with Equinox, Citra, and Centennial hops. I haven’t had any of the other 5 in the series to compare, but this is one is very well executed. It has pine in the aroma, it’s a little cloudy, and it has a juicy orange-forward flavor. It’s not NEIPA IPA juicy, but it’s definitely juicy by Texas standards. I can’t say this is the best IPA in Houston, but it’s good enough that I took home a crowler after the event. This pairing was fun to play with. Runny eggs are usually breakfast food for me, so I’ve never considered how they pair with beer. The yolk cut the carbonation and bitterness of the beer, resetting my palate. The veal and the potatoes didn’t bring much to the pairing, but they were very tasty. It felt like the schnitzel was added to check the “Oktoberfest” box, but I think something with a spicy mustard, to accentuate the bitterness of the beer and spiciness of the mustard, would have been a lot of fun here and paired better with the beer overall.
4th Course: Peach Nectar Honey Wheat Ale & a rolled vegetable salad and golden beet vinaigrette
This beer demonstrates what makes WFM Brewing unique. Bruised peaches that would not have sold in the produce section were pulled aside by Dave, steamed, and added to the beer. The peach was a subtle, but noticeable presence and complemented the honey malt backed grain bill. (Side note: if you’ve never tried honey on fresh peaches, you’re missing out.) I was surprised that this only had honey malt and not actual honey because this beer finished very sweet. Other than the fruit & vegetable theme, the vegetables didn’t add much to the beer. The vinegar component of the golden beet vinaigrette again cut the sweetness of the beer, which I thought was just a touch too sweet overall.
5th Course: Barleywine & Apple Strudel
Normally, I’d be disappointed to get such a good beer in a 9oz snifter, but at this point we’d had 4 courses of food and almost 3 full pints worth of beer. We were very full. The barleywine takes you on a roller coaster of sweet up front, bitter in at the middle and a sweet finish. It’s more in the vein of an English barleywine than the overly hopped American versions. The finish left nuances of figs and dates. And apple pie and barley wine? Those definitely work well together. The Chantilly whipped cream was especially delicious.
I’m generally dismissive of beer dinners. I usually find them to be overpriced, with small servings of needlessly fancy food and small servings of beer that I can easily find at a bar or a store shelf. This one blew me away. Each of the 5 courses had a full serving of food and a normal sized pour of beer. While not every pairing was perfect, my wife and I left stuffed and a little buzzed.
I’ll be honest, a few months after WFM Brewing started up, I tried a variety of their beer and I wrote them off as a corporate gimmick. Between then and now, something drastic has changed. The beers are phenomenal. After the dinner was over, we walked down to the bar and bought 2 crowlers to go. If you haven’t been to check out their beers, or you went a while ago and wrote them off like I did, please go back. If you’re skeptical, most draft pours are $2 on Thursdays. These beers deserve to have people talking about them.
Whole Foods provided me with a ticket to this event, and I bought an extra for my wife.
The next Whole Foods Market beer dinner is Wednesday, December 7th featuring beers by Real Ale Brewing, including the Real Deal Stout collaboration beer mentioned above.
Tickets are available here.
Follow Whole Foods Market Houston on social media to find out about other events: