In his 19 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, Chris Phillips learned a thing or two about chemistry, teamwork and defensive pairings.
It was fitting the recently retired defenceman was on hand for Rideau View's Beer and Food pairing event on June 3 where, under the masterful coaching of chef Stephanie Dubowski, those qualities of teamwork and chemistry were brought together in a wonderful execution of beer and food.
Five dollars from each ticket sold were donated to the relief fund for Fort McMurray where Phillips grew up ($1 from each Big Rig pint sold at Rideau View through June will also be donated).
The stars of the show were a lineup of five beers from Big Rig Brewery, of which Phillips, who was known as The Big Rig during his playing days, is one of the co-owners, and the creations of Chef Steph and her lineup of all stars in Rideau View's kitchen.
"I've always liked beer," Phillips said with a laugh. "I'm still learning every day. Listening to these guys (at Big Rig), you learn something new every day."
The five courses were complemented with an assortment of beers from the Big Rig lineup, with Chef Steph and Big Rig's Tim Feren talking the participants through each course.
Chef Steph carefully selected the lineup and the pairings like a coach would look for chemistry among linemates, so that the total would be greater than the sum of the parts.
In her pre-game speech, she helped the participants understand how to maximize the experience.
She quoted one of her favourite passages when it comes to appreciating food and spirits: "The palette: a person's appreciation of taste and flavour, especially when sophisticated and discriminating," she said. "How does that happen? It happens through training."
She emphasized the importance of the nose in appreciating both the beer and the food.
"As you lift them to your nose, you close your eyes and you smell them," she said. "Smell gives birth to the brain. Close your eyes, smell your food. Close your eyes, smell your beers."
First up was a Cajun crusted seared tuna taco with avocado mousse and Pico de Gallo with Big Rig's Big Boot Hefeweizen.
"It's 50 percent malted barley and 50 percent malted wheat. The wheat adds that creaminess," Feren said. "The real big rock star of this beer is the yeast strain. We're lucky enough to have in our beer, one of the oldest yeast strains on Earth. It's been around since 1650. A lot of really big notes when you smell this one. You will get a lot of banana on the nose, a little bit of clove and quite a bit of citrus."
The yeast is sourced from Weiheinstephaner in Germany, one of the oldest commercial breweries in the world.
The second course was a Grilled Orange Beer Can Chicken lining up with an Orange Peel Session IPA. At 4.8% alcohol by volume and 35 IBU, this is a lighter IPA, ideal for this time of year.
Big Rig's Canadian Amber was paired with an amazingly tender beef tenderloin which Chef Steph and her staff marinated for 24 hours in the beer and then injected with beer and butter.
"We wanted to make it a truly Canadian beer so all the ingredients have been sourced when possible from local farmers," Feren said. "It's got a caramel sweetness from malt. Clean, smooth and refreshing, great for this time of year and less carbonated, so you might find it sits a little bit lighter than your average beer."
The first star of the night was a Midnight Stout Chocolate Cake, made with Midnight Kissed My Cow Double Chocolate Milk Stout, a dense and moist cake with a stout chantilly and foam.
"The biggest joy came from the Midnight Kissed My Cow beer. It was so intriguing," said Chef Steph. "When I opened it and I smelled it, with my eyes closed, I got everything it said it was. When I mixed up the cake batter and I added the beer to it, it was in the most pleasant place in my mind because the chocolate, the vanilla, all came through so beautifully. The coffee flavour ... everybody in the kitchen was like, come smell this, come smell this, because it was science at its best. It was fabulous."
Feren explained the unique spin Big Rig has put on its delicious offering which features a double helping of 100 percent Belgian cocoa.
"It starts with a dark roasted barley, that's where you get the colour from," he said. "You can taste a lot of coffee in this beer, but there is actually zero coffee. Malt and barley are roasted in a similar way to a coffee bean, so they get a lot of the same flavours. Milk sugar is added to push forward the sweetness of the malt rather than accentuate the roast. It gives it that creamy nice feel in your mouth."
The evening concluded with Salute 1179 Light Lager, the Big Rig's tribute to its namesake, brewed in collaboration between Big Rig brewmaster Lon Ladell and Phillips, who retired last month after playing a franchise record 1,179 games for the Senators.
"This is his beer. Lon created this beer with Chris' input," Feren said. "This is an homage to his career with the Sens and in the community. It's a light lager, 4 percent. This is a really, really great easy drinking summer time beer. Great light pale straw notes, super crisp, super refreshing. This is a really great way to finish the night off. It's going to cleanse the palette nicely with a clean hop finish towards the end. You can just let it speak for itself."