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Beer and Donuts: Together At Last at Il Vinaio

It's an idea so obvious it's surprising it hasn't been done before: beer with donuts.

Though someone somewhere has probably tried it (maybe Paul Westerberg?) Mesa's Il Vinaio took the pairing of microbrews and hot-out-of-the- fryer gourmet donuts to a new level Saturday with its first in a planned semi-annual series of tastings involving Homer Simpson's two favorite foodstuffs.

The four-course tasting included a ricotta fritter with Four Peaks' Hefeweizen, a sugar-topped beignet with Firestone Walker's Double Barrel Ale, a fresh strawberry-filled puff with Firestone's Union Jack IPA and a Mexican chocolate chocolate cake doughnut with Firestone's Velvet Merkin.

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Chef Patrick Boll cooked every donut to order and all were delicious, though the chocolate cake version was a little hard for our taste. The beignet, in particular, was perfect -- with just the right dusting of sugar and a fluffy center.

The heavy emphasis on Firestone Walker, which The Senator's Wife started distributing in the middle of last year, and which seems to be making a big push into the local market, was appreciated. Firestone won the top prize at the Great Arizona Beer Festival, where the California brewer's Nectar IPA also drew rave reviews (ahem). Firestone's DBA, which you'll find popping up a few other places around town, has a nice oak-y aftertaste that melded well with the beignet.

The Velvet Merkin, which was not bottled and which was only available in kegs to a few bars and restaurants, was especially impressive. Made with 100% U.S.-grown Fuggles hops, it was sweet, but not so sweet that it overpowered the mild, coffee-like chocolate flavors of the donut.

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