Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Monk's Kettle Ninkasi Beer Dinner

I was so happy to be able to participate in the San Francisco Bay Area debut of the draft beers of this delightful Eugene, Oregon brewer, Ninkasi, back in March.

Ninkasi, a relatively young brewing company, is named after the Sumerian Goddess of Fermentation and they have played around with some of the first recorded beer recipes while doing their brewing. Happily for us, they sent their primary brewer, Jamie Floyd, to teach us about each of the beers we tasted.

The Monk's Kettle has started a new tradition of giving the diners a welcome beer - and I can't think of anything more welcoming than a gratis beer! We were welcomed with Spring Reign, a seasonal American Pale Ale coming in at 6.0% ABV. The beer had gentle hops and a crisp flavor that, unlike many pale ales, mellowed and really grew on me as I sipped it while chatting with my friends, BJ, Rod, Cory & Mark, awaiting the first course. This was what Jamie referred to as a "session beer", and I could definitely see that. Easy to drink at 35 IBUs and not *too* strong.

The wait was well worth it, as we were served the most delicious cream of mushroom soup any of us had ever eaten in our entire lives. The soup, made from locally grown organic portobello muhrooms, was garnished with fried truffle shallots, with a tarragon reduction - simply amazing. Each of us agreed that we would've been happy if the soup was served for each course :)

The best part about this soup? It completely changed the complexion of the beer - bringing out a before hidden essence of peaches.

Chef Kevin Kroger really outdid himself with this course and we were certain we'd be let down by everything else that followed - wow, we were wrong!

The next course, coconut curry with Ocean Garden shrimp served over a Thai basil rice cake was seasoned with fresh ginger, Thai basil and mint. I found the curry lightly spiced and creamy, the shrimp was amazingly tender - perfectly cooked! Perfectly matched as well with the Total Domination American India Pale Ale (6.7% ABV), which was soft, citrusy, light and very drinkable. I swore I tasted lemon grass in the beer, too. I was surprised I enjoyed this beer so much, as it came in at 65 IBUs, and I tend to not like "bitter" beers, but this beer was very drinkable... perhaps another session beer? I can see why this beer is the #1 selling 22oz bottle in Eugene, OR. I've been keeping my eyes peeled at my local bottle shop for it myself.

Jamie Floyd took a moment here to share his IPA philosophy with us, which I find lines up perfectly with my taste preference. He realizes that hops operate on a logarithmic scale and you have to be able to find the correct balance of bitter, flavor and drinkability. Lots of brewers can make an IPA that tastes great in a 6oz pour, but Jamie only sells in 22 ounce bottle so he has to brew beers that will taste as good on your last sip as they did on their first.

And this is when true joy began - our next beer, Tricerahops Double IPA (American Imperial India Pale Ale - 8.8% ABV). This beer had an amazing hoppy flavor without the bitterness I've come to associate with hops. It can be done! It was smooth and a pleasure to drink, though at 8.8% ABV, it is better to be enjoyed in small quantities.

How could things get any better? Our waiter brought out the next course - cumin rubbed pork tenderloin, goat cheese mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. The pork, like the shrimp, was cooked to perfection - tender and juicy, with a rosemary-orange glaze. Again, this course was cooked with tarragon - an herb I believe I've been greatly under estimating! The beer was paired well and the food and the beer accentuated one another.

Our fourth beer was Believer Double Red (American Red Ale, 6.9% ABV), which was inspired by one of my favorites - Deschutes' Jubelale. Apparently Jamie and his crew had been working on the recipe for this beer longer than anything else in their lineup, and it was their first winter seasonal. I found this beer to be more of a brown than a red, with hints of dates and a smooth easy taste. The Believer Double Red was paired with Igor Novara Dolce Gorgonzola with roasted garlic cloves and an Italian and Thai basil reduction, with toasted cashews and Metropolis bigio bread. Always a fan of blue cheeses and roasted garlic, I could not have been more delighted by this course. The flavors blended together nicely and brought out the date flavor of the beer. Another course I wouldn't have minded being repeated ;)

The fifth, and final, beer was the one I had been most looking forward to: the Oatis Oatmeal Stout (7.5% ABV, 50 IBUs). I am a huge fan of oatmeal stouts, regularly drinking some at the Tied House in Mountain View. Actually, it may just be that I'm a huge fan of oatmeal, which I eat nearly every morning and have since I was a kid.

Ah, but back to the beer! It was a creamy brew, with coffee tones and a distinct nutty flavor (I could've sworn it tasted like cashews, but that was probably the last course still lingering). The Oatis Oatmeal Stout was originally their second winter seasonal, but the beer became so popular it is now a permanent fixture in their lineup. Jamie and the gang do like a clear beer, but they try to avoid filtering as it can take out some of the lovely flavors, so they have been experimenting with using a centrifuge on this beer. I do have to say I loved the results.

Chef Kroger paired this beautifully with a tarragon chocolate chip cookie and vanilla ice cream sandwich with an Oatis Oatmeal Stout infused chocolate sauce. I don't think you can ever go wrong with an ice cream sandwich, but I would've never thought of putting tarragon into cookie mix. This was surprisingly tasty. It was a bit like tarragon was the "secret ingredient" in this beer dinner, as it popped up so often and is usually a neglected herb - but it really worked and helped accentuate the bear flavors.

All in all, another palate enticing affair! Can't wait til the next one - oh, that's tonight! :-)