There's no denying the surge in interest and the proliferation of Craft Breweries around the country in the last couple of years. America used to be a beer nation, but as wineries and importers expanded their taste and variety, they expanded their marketplace and finally, the US became a major world consumer of fine wines. But, while the vintners cultivated their fields (and their profits), the beer industry started to evolve in the same way, crafting new tastes, textures and clientele to the point where you could almost say, beer is the new wine.
|The evening's pairings, hand selected by Jeremy Eseroma, of Harry's Hofbrau fame.|
The genesis for the idea came from the fine work being done locally, by Jeremy Eseroma, chief brew buyer for Harry's Hofbrau in San Jose, Ca., which used to be the cold punchline to the joke, "Where does a good beer go to die?" Some would be shocked to find out that Jeremy is only 23 years old, because his demeanor, attitude and knowledge, far surpass his years.
As it happened, Jeremy reached out to me on Facebook, having enjoyed a few barbecue events at my house as a guest of my son, and invited my wife and I to a tasting. Seeing him in action, matching customers to flavors, coaxing clientele to stay and try another taste experience, brought the idea to mind and the date was set for the Craft Brew and BBQ pairing night.
It was a "By Invitation Only" event and I sealed the participants at eight, bringing together some international wine palates, as well as a sous chef from Maggiano's Italian Restaurant, who is closely tied to the TapHunter group in San Diego, "relatively" speaking, and a bartender from some local establishments, both well versed in craft brews, themselves.
A week before the tasting, I provided Jeremy with the menu: a variety of cheeses and garlic butter sauteed escargots to start, followed by rib-eye steaks, roasted potatoes, garlic bread and a medley of grilled snap peas, carrots, miniature bell peppers, mushrooms and, of course, bacon. I picked up a 17 lb Prime Rib roast the day before the event and cut it into 20 oz. steaks, trimming some of the fatty cap off, then used a dry rub consisting mainly of garlic, sage, thyme, onion, various coarse Mediterranean salts and coffee. I sealed them in a pan and refrigerated for about eighteen hours, then marinated for about six hours prior to grilling, at room temperature. The stage was set.
We kicked off in the backyard around six p.m. with beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures. Jeremy brought tasting glasses (no, not beer goggles), so we wouldn't get tanked as the evening progressed, and began his pairing of The Lost Abbey, Red Poppy Ale with the Triple Cream French Brie.
From there, we moved on to Heady Topper, an American Double India Pale Ale, to match up with the Italian Truffle Cheese, primarily a Jack and Mozzarella, infused with mushrooms. IPA's are the backbone of the craft brew industry, and for many, it takes time and quantity to accept and eventually savor the bitter aftertaste. This Double IPA boasts an 8% alcohol by volume, and there was considerable discussion about the instruction to Drink From The Can, prominently displayed. From the can, to most it tasted bitter, fine for IPA aficionados. But, from the glass, it became light and fruity with tones of apricot and pineapple, and the cheese brought out more of the hops, which muddled the clarity and settled to the glass bottom. Brewed and "canned" by the pint, by The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vt.
Having recently returned from Barcelona, we acquired a taste for Manchego cheese, which is dryer and somewhat more mild compared to some of its Italian counterparts. This time, to counter the mildness, Jeremy broke out a Belgian Ale brewed with spices, Fantome Saison. The nose is peculiar for an ale, reminiscent of lavender, of all things, putting you in mind of bouquets of potpourri. The taste, however, had an earthy smokiness, evoking a spicy-sweet mix of hibiscus, nutmeg, and even acorn (really, really young oak!) Fantome is brewed and bottled (750 mil.) by Brasserie Fantome in Soy, Belgium, and imported by Shelton Brothers, Belchertown, Ma.
Jeremy had never eaten sauteed escargots before, so he was punting when he brought out the Oude Gueuze, a special Belgian Ale, aged for three years. Escargots are rich and succulent, soaked in garlic butter, so he did well, balancing the textures with the Lambic Ale, which was light and fruity with hints of green apple and grapefruit, somewhat resembling a tart apple cider, but with a 6% alcohol by volume kick and the slightly bitter lemon rind finish. Brewed and bottled (750 mil.) by Hanssens Artisanaal, in Dworp, Belgium, imported by B. United International, out of Redding, Ct.
The aroma of the grilling steaks meant it was time to move on to bigger and better fare, and much like I had advised Jeremy that the seasoning should never overshadow the meat, he chose to start us off with a light palate-cleansing Berlin-Style Tart Wheat Ale, the Berliner Hottenroth Weisse. At only 3.1% by volume, the tartness of the ale reacted nicely with the rich, melt-in-you-mouth steaks and the neutralizing acid complimented, rather than washed away, any residual fatty flavor, from the marbling of the meat. Hottenroth is a tribute beer, brewed and bottled (750 mil) by The Brewery, in Orange County, Ca.
Firestone Walker's Reserve, a robust, dark Porter with tones of chocolate, toffee and caramel, was an excellent transition from the lighter wheat ale, and made us want to spark up Cubans and head outside. But, alas, Cubans are illegal, right? So, we mellowed and meandered as the mixed berries, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry, appeared in bowls before us, with whipped cream begging for our attention. It did not go wanting...
So, what more fitting compliment than to pull out an Imperial Stout, Santa's Little Helper, again from the Port Brewing Company in San Marcos, Ca. Aged in oak barrels, the aromas of bourbon and vanilla filled the nose, while the sweet, rich finish, left nothing to be desired. It seemed as close to a wine as beer could get, so when it was done, we moved on to a Chilean red...spicy, yet...
The evening was pronounced a success and the decision made to continue on the path as often as made fiscal sense, which right now means we plan on doing this monthly, at least through the summer. So, look forward to more reviews with different flavored brews, with different flavored 'Qs.