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Perfect pairing

Chef to craft menu with Gezellig beer pairings for sold out ‘Dinner & Drafts’ at Legacy Plaza

There may be as much creative freedom in beer making as there is crafting a multi-course food menu to pair alongside those very same sudsy beverages.

Iowa Culinary Institute Chef Katie Van Dyke will know soon enough by the time she finishes creating her customized, four-course meal to be served side by side with four craft beers from Gezellig Brewing Co. during the “Dinner & Drafts” pairing experience.

Organized by the Iowa Culinary Institute at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), the sold-out dinner will be held inside the Newton-based brewery at Legacy Plaza. The meal is designed to highlight the unique notes and flavors of Gezellig’s award-winning beers.

Each brew will be hand-picked by Van Dyke and Gezellig’s head brewer Grant Heuer. Van Dyke expects she has completed about 20 or so beer or wine pairing dinner menus in the past six months; all of which were unique dishes specific to the featured winery or brewery.

“Basically, I take the food and I marry the two,” she said. “When you do a food and alcohol beverage pairing, it’s very important not to offend the alcohol. Because I can totally destroy his beers. But I can’t really be too subtle … I’m not a passive pairer. I’m going to meet you as far as I can push that beer.”

Gezellig only recently had its recipes paired with food for the first time at Need Pizza in Cedar Rapids. Heuer said it went “very well.” Recently, the brewery even paired its beers with Girl Scout Cookies. Like Van Dyke, the brewer has experience in pairing beers and identifying their flavors and notes.

In addition to making his own beer recipes, Heuer is a Certified Cicerone. This means he has proven experience when comes to selecting, acquiring and serving a wide variety of beers on the market today. Studying to become a Cicerone encouraged him to start looking into pairing more seriously.

“I think one of the things that is really cool is you’ll get recommendations like IPAs will work with sharp cheddar or something like that, but to delve in is different,” Heuer said. “It’s one thing to read on a piece of paper to eat this and drink this doppelbock, but it’s a totally different (experience in-person).”

Likewise, Van Dyke likes to stick to her instincts when pairing beer to a culinary meal, even when the pairing doesn’t seemingly make sense at face value. For instance, she paired a Confluence Brewing ChewBOCKa German-style doppelbock with a fried pork dish served with kimchi truffle butter.

“It was amazing — it was crazy how well it worked,” Van Dyke said.

Gezellig’s constantly rotating menu of beers provides a small challenge for the Dinner & Drafts chef, who will be the sole person preparing, cooking and describing the dishes. With about two weeks left under the dinner, now is the time for Van Dyke and Heuer to settle on beers.

“Since the last time we talked until now I’m sure there’s been some creative juices flowing and different things that he’s been playing with — beers come, beers go,” she said. “Maybe he has a brand new beer he wants to highlight but hasn’t done before. All these possibilities you don’t know until you get closer.”

Which means a menu likely will not be posted prior to the event. Visitors have to just show up and trust the chef and brewer. Van Dyke has mostly paired food with wine. Gezellig will be the third time she has paired food with beer. Both drinks have similarities, but are still wholly different from each other.

Van Dyke believes there are extreme differences when pairing wine or beer with food. She contends not many others would agree with her, but argued they are “crazy different.” Sure, they’re both fermented drinks, but their notes and bodies and carbonation levels are different. Heuer can relate.

“I can age things in rye whiskey barrels or port barrels or red wine, white wine barrels — I think there’s a little more flexibility in beers as far as the flavors you can have,” Heuer said. “And I imagine that gives (Van Dyke) a little more to work with.”

When deciding on what to pair with a beer, she has to take into account not only the flavors and notes, but the temperature of the drink as well. Knowing as many details about the beer before making her final decision is important. The whole process, she said, is “very scientific” since there are so many variables.

“But it makes it very fun for me since it’s never ending,” Van Dyke said. “I could probably spend months with a menu just continuing to evolve it. I have to draw the line at some point. I don’t give myself too much time, so I don’t go manic and go crazy. At some point I have to stop and produce it. And I love creating.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

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