A Night at Common Table: Beer vs. Wine

by Tait Lifto

The Common Table dinners are legendary and not to be missed, and since I was in attendance for Beer vs Wine I (wine won, btw), I couldn’t wait to see what Tim and Jeff had in store for the rematch.

Tim Campbell – Wine & Spirits Education Trust Advanced Certificate holder and not-so-secret beer lover, Tim works for Republic National Beverage
Jeff Fryman – Master Certified Cicerone (The Common Table) with a wild brillo-pad beard knows his beer and has a well-known love affair for funkiness. I’m pretty sure his first son will be named “Bret”


First of all, let’s “set the table”… or “set the common table” as it were. TCT dinners involve special food menus created by Chef Mike Smith. These food menus are thought through well in advance of any dinner and paired with the beverages on purpose. Genius. And the food menus are incredible – my favorite in recent history was for the Mikkeller/Jester King Dinner: cheddar, bacon grits with quail – and are one-of-a-kind masterpieces in of themselves as they are not on the daily menus, so you miss a dinner and you miss those dishes (presumably forever, but I hate to follow Disney’s promotional lines for their cartoons recently rescued from some mysterious vault and digitally remastered, so I’ll just move on).            

All the usual suspects met secretly in a clandestine location, led there by blind llamas and held in place with tightly woven dryer lint… um… I mean, owner Corey Pond, Chef Mike Smith, Jeff Fryman and Tim Campbell met over a month in advance of BvWII to taste the food menu and pair up the contenders.

The meeting was setup via text which led to an interesting mistake over the letter “o” – they were going to meet on Tuesday at 3pm but when Corey texted a change in plans to Tim, he typed “can you do 2pm mon?” which Tim read as “can you do 2pm, man?” missing the new day but capturing the new time. So when 2:15pm on Monday rolled around and Tim received txts inquiring as to his whereabouts with Jeff about to board a plane for Chicago, Tim grabbed bottles and ran over. They pulled off the pairings under a short schedule that day and now we get to enjoy the fruits of that labor of love (the other less-known “LOL”).

Course 1 – Prosciutto Wrapped Shrimp

I boldly predicted the winner incorrectly for just about every course. And I tried each wine and beer on their own prior to eating the food before me to see how the tastes changed when paired. We started with a plate of cannellini beans topped with prosciutto wrapped shrimp and paired with a very fine Albarino (which, incidentally, is singularly responsible as a style to reintroduce me to white wines and make me a fan) that was clean with a smooth, rounded fruit taste and a buttery mouth feel along with the more crisp and up front Orval. I personally liked the wine better because the salt from the prosciutto hit the albarino, but neither pairing was solid – both were slightly off. Beer won this in a close vote by one.

I truly believed that the wine would win course 2 based on the written description with cherries in the salad and balsamic vinaigrette, but was shocked to discover that the goat cheese grabbed my palate when mixed with Three Philosophers and brought everything together. At that point, I was convinced beer would win. Wrong again – wine took this round handily.

Course 3 – Halibut

Then course 3 hits and now we’re off to the races just for the halibut (I had to slip in this pun – I promised everyone within earshot last night) – this was a great choice to switch things up and pair a piece of fish with a beer. I applaud Chef Mike for going this route, and the Duvel is well suited to stand together with seafood as it’s crisp, clean and dry. The almond and artichoke cream sauce was just incredible. The contender from the wine corner came in at a nice fighting weight of Ramey fame and fought back. Winner? I again incorrectly picked beer and wine took this round, so now it’s two to one, wine, going into the next round.

Course 4 – Beef Tenderloin

Course 4 and eyes light up at the Chimay Grande Reserve (commonly called “Chimay Blue” due to the blue label) hits with a beautiful beef tenderloin. This dish brings its own problems, though, with an incomprehensible onion thickly skinned and impossible to eat that was filled with bland mashed potatoes. I wondered if this skewed results with the wine – the rest of my table had a similar opinion of the side dish but all loved the steak, mushrooms and sauce pairing with both the Pinot Noir and the Chimay Grande Reserve. Spirited discussions abounded on the winner of this round with general agreement that it was the best pairing so far overall. In a close vote, Beer takes round 4 and we go into the dessert round all tied up.

And this was interesting because dessert brought out the famous and mouth-pleasing bread pudding with dark rum and kahlua cream. And Tim brings his killer out, a 20 year old sherry that is so thick my glass still has legs on it from last night. Jeff hops up with a Trappist ale whipping forth Rochefort 10. This one was going all the way to the end, folks, don’t leave your seats. The sherry by itself was incredible without overdoing the sweetness and when coupled with the bread pudding, my mouth started singing. Quietly to itself. Not Christmas music, but something you’d hear on a smooth jazz station. But the Rochefort punched back on the rum combo (listen, folks, craft beer with rum or bourbon is just freaking awesome). These two touted terrific traditional treats bounced around the ring for the full three minutes and then we breathlessly awaited the judges decision. Corey explained that somehow, despite multiple recounts and no hanging chads (although Chad was sitting at my table), round 5 was a tie which meant that overall we had a tie.

The Common Table – Beer vs Wine II

And you’d be correct if you noticed that all the beers were Belgians. I asked Jeff about it and he just simply replied that they were the best beers for the food. Hard to argue with belgians, but tonight wine took them to the end with no judges decision.

Without a tiebreaker, it was easy to see that the winner of the Beer vs Wine Dinner II was each person attending. These dinners are worth the price of admission. The quality of the food and beverages is always top notch, and the friendly atmosphere engages you from the moment you step in until you finally tab out and wander to a taxi.


1st course
Food: Prosciutto wrapped shrimp with cannellini beans, tomatoes and basil oil
Wine: 2008 Fillaboa Selección Finca Monte Alto
Beer: Orval
Winner: Beer

2nd course
Food: Field green salad with dried cherries, pine nuts, goat cheese and aged balsamic vinaigrette
Wine: 2008 Il Poggione Rosso de Montalcino
Beer: Ommegang Three Philosophers
Winner: Wine

3rd course
Food: Pan seared halibut with sun dried tomato and thyme polenta, toasted almond & artichoke cream sauce
Wine: 2008 Ramey Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Beer: Duvel
Winner: Wine

4th course
Food: Herb and garlic roasted beef tenderloin with a roasted red onion cup filled with Yukon gold potato and Gruyere onion gratin finished with mushroom demi glace
Wine: 2008 Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir
Beer: Chimay Bleue
Winner: Beer

Food: Granny Smith apple and golden raisin bread pudding with dark rum and Kahlua cream
Wine: Sandemans Royal Ambrosante 20 Year Old Pedro Ximinez
Beer: Rochefort 10
Winner: Tie!

Tait Lifto is a free-lance craft beer blogger and photographer from Dallas, TX.



Filed under beer, chefs, Competition, fun with food, Tait Lifto, Wine

2 responses to “A Night at Common Table: Beer vs. Wine

  1. Carla

    Love Common Table!

  2. Pingback: Your Last Meal of 2011 «

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