This specially crafted six-course meal included a beer and wine pairing with each course. Or as the Alaskan Brewing Co. brand ambassador dubbed it: “A wine guy goes against the beer guy.”

Participants were asked to choose which was better with each segment of the meal — grapes or grains.

It was all put together on a lovely September evening at McKinley Creekside Cabins & Cafe, located south of the entrance to Denali National Park, at Mile 224 Parks Highway. Three tables of eager participants sat in the open-air pavilion on the banks of Carlo Creek.

Creekside sous chef Dan Ascik, along with Hank Phillips, Bryan Kriebel, Robin DeLong and bakers Sarah Hanley and Tina Williams, worked their culinary magic. The meal began with an amuse bouche, a smoked salmon gaufreete with chive.

Alaskan Brewing Company brand ambassador JJ Tranquilla suggested Alaskan Amber Ale as the perfect beer with this course. Creekside’s certified sommelier Ryan Aguirre proposed diners enjoy the 2012 Champagne Ayala, a blanc de blancs from Reims, France. And that was just the first hard choice.

It didn’t get any easier throughout the six-course meal. At each course, the two experts presented their case for their beverage. The beer guy told the story of how he selected the beer for that particular course and how it was brewed. It was all very Alaskan and included tales of spruce tips and glacial waters. The wine guy provided a more cosmopolitan outlook with each course, and described the region and grapes of the wines he selected.

“The idea for the event came from JJ, but my focus was to really showcase our awesome culinary team,” Aguirre said.

The evening was billed as a battle of the world’s finest beverages, in a spirited and friendly competition. While that provided a fun challenge at every course, there was no doubt that the meal itself was spectacular on its own.

After the appetizer, servers presented candied pork belly, pickled papaya, nam jim, followed by lobster bisque. The main course was duck breast, habanero fig jam, and vincotto and parsnip puree. A glass of rosehip Champagne granita, sweetened berries and spearmint was next and finally for dessert, an orange and cherry Pavlova with ginger meringue, cherry compote, orange cardamom curd and almond cream.

With each delicious course came that perplexing question of which was better: grapes or grains? For example, the options for lobster bisque were Alaskan Wildflower Honey Blonde Ale or a 2015 DeLille Cellars Roussanne from Columbia Valley, Washington.

Sometimes it was impossible to choose.

And in the end, when overall results were tallied? Grapes reigned over grains. But that didn’t deter the beer guy one bit.

“It goes both ways,” Tranquilla said. “Depends on the audience.”

“I work with one brewery,” he added. “Ryan can use any wine in any country. His palette was much more diverse.”

Nevertheless, he praised all the pairings and looks forward to a rematch. McKinley Creekside is planning to offer this event again next summer.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her at

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