But perhaps they were right, as with the stage literally set, the seats around us started to fill up and pretty soon it was standing room only as the latecomers squeezed in at the back of the seating area. Sláinte author (along with Kristin Jensen) Caroline Hennessy and sommelier Colm McCan took to the stage, with the Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau acting as an over qualified bottle opener and glass dispenser at the start. Caroline began proceedings by handing out malted barley for the audience to try, insisting that we all have a little taste. I presume that this was a clever ploy to attune people's palates to the beery side of the battle which she was of course pushing. Colm then started pushing for the grapes' side and soon the playful banter was in full flow as each extolled the virtues of their particular tipple, with Pascal giving his somewhat partisan opinions from the wings too when he could get a word in edgeways.
The basic idea of this 'discussion' was to pit beer or cider against wine to find out which was the best accompaniment for the samples of food provided by local producers. Caroline and Colm would tell us why their choice of drink went better with the food and at the end of the 'talk' we would all vote to see which was the best choice. Having attended the event the previous year I knew what to expect but I had enjoyed it so much last time I had decided to drag my mate Nige along and experience the fun again. It helped that Nige was a bit of a wine buff so it was something I thought he'd enjoy.
Obviously I was on the beer and cider side.
First up was Trout Pâté from Goatsbridge in Kilkenny on spelt bread from the also local Speltbaker, glorious in its own right but Caroline had paired it with Irish Cockagee Keeved Cider, while Colm had gone for a Spanish Bodegas Menade Rueda Verdejo. The wine - I must admit - had a lovely citrus-gooseberry, dry taste that went really well with the creamy pâté, cutting through its mild fishy flavour and cleansing the palate. The cider was a low carbonated medium style with a gorgeous sweet, golden raisin flavour. Both were excellent in their own way but I did feel that the wine had the edge in this pairing to my admittedly odd palate. Nige liked both of the drinks but did not commit one way or another as to which he preferred. Perhaps I forgot to ask ... or I wasn't paying attention!
Pascal was talking more now, explaining with the passion and panache that only those with Gallic blood can truly ooze about the origins of the wines, the people behind them and the ethos that drives their production. But Caroline wasn't letting Colm or Pascal schmooze the audience too much as she emphasised the localness of irish beer and cider, and how these products are more relevant and important to this country than imported wine. As our three hosts bantered back and forth I was struck by how much they love what they do. You could hear it in their voices, inflections and tone as well as their facial expressions and hand movements - and by their stances both literal and figurative. I was a little jealous to be honest that they were immersed in work that let them express themselves in such a passionate way about produce they clearly loved.
Again Nige disagreed.
And so it was time for the public vote:
Cider won the first round, then wine won the second (People fixating on the singing owl name - Pah!), and seemingly it was a draw for dessert (Harumph!) - a result that was designed to keep everyone happy perhaps. And so for the second year running the public vote was a draw.
But to my mind people weren't actually treating the contest as a proper pairing, they were just judging which drink they liked. Maybe that's just sour grapes (Hah!) from me but I did feel that once again beer and cider were jipped.
So after being truly and uniquely entertained by our hosts, who we thanked and chatted to at the end - Nige bending Pascal's ear about obscure regional French wines while I was my usual socially awkward, foot shuffling self, we set off in search of more than just small samples of beer.
Luckily we didn't have far to go ...
24th October 2015
(Savour Kilkenny 2015 (Part 1) is here btw.)