Tuesday, August 3, 2010
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! :-)
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Dinner was a bit slower paced than normal, which meant we had to rush out to catch a cab. It took us forever to find one that wasn't occupied, but then the driver we got DIDN'T KNOW WHERE CALTRAIN WAS! How can you be a cab driver in San Francisco and not know where the Caltrain stations are? There are only two....by the time we got out of that cab, it was no longer possible for us to make our 10:45PM train, so we had to wait it out 'til the midnight train.
Sayer made sure our wait was bearable, though, by bringing us out some of the leftover dessert chocolate and some beer - YUM!
So, is there a good way to find a cabbie in SF that actually knows where the train stations are? Any recommendations? Or do I just need to print out a directions and take them with me?
Sunday, April 4, 2010
We started out with a delightful visit to Germany with Weissenohe Monk's Fest, which featured a slightly hoppy caramel flavored Marzen style beer. This paired amazingly well with our starting course: chicken liver braunschweiger with pickled shallots on a crostini. I don't know about you, but I love braunschweiger and feel that it is a type of mystery meat that has been largely neglected by the American masses over the last few years. I was glad to see it back and with such a nice beer.
A short jaunt over to Belgium for De Ranke XX Bitter (Belgian IPA). This was an abbey style "farm ale", which I found was a little too hoppy for me to start with, but once I tried it with the mussels in fresh herbs and tomatoes, WOW! This pairing completely changed the flavor of the beer in the most amazing way. My notes say: "made it very yummy" :) And none of us, excepting the one that doesn't eat shell fish, could not get enough of these mussels and broth! Of course, they were served with amazing Belgian style pommes frites. This was the course I could've eaten over & over again.
Onto the Netherlands - land of tall and very polite people, and amazing beer. We were treated with Christoffel Nobel (Imperial Pilsner), apparently the first Trappist brewery to open in the Netherlands. We felt for certain that this could easily be a terrible hangover beer, due to the fact that it was remarkably delicious and 8.7% ABV. My friend, Julie, and I both tasted Bing cherries and mandarins in this beer, and it was again another amazing pairing! Served with house-cured gravlax with a hovmastarsas sauce, capers, shaved red onion and toasted Metropolis Bigio.
Then, surprisingly, we came back to America for a Michigan brewed beer. I guess Michigan is like another country to those of us that live out in California, but more importantly, it was a good cask ale - specially made just for the Monk's Kettle! This was an odd beer, with an odd name: Jolly Pumpkin Barn Noire, which tasted sweet with hints of cinnamon and orange peel. Chef Kevin Kroger felt that such a strange beer deserved a strange course, and for the first time in my life I had lamb tartare, served with house made crackers. I found the lamb so tender and tasty. I wasn't sure I'd be a fan of raw ground lamb, but Chef Kroger worked magic and made an amazing pairing (and was super nice and provided Mark with some roasted goat cheese, as he just couldn't tolerate the thought of eating raw meat).
Now for our cooked lamb course, a delicious lamb stew, we went to Norway for Nøgne-Ø Porter (American Style Porter). Like many porters, this one tasted heavily of chocolate and espresso and ... pure yumminess. Another friend at the table stated that he loved this beer more than anything, and yes, "I want to marry it". His review of the stew: "Like being wrapped in a snuggie". The lamb stew, with onions, carrots, celery, turnips, Bay leaves and fennel, paired so well with this beer, it really showed how well Chef Kroger can match up entrees when given a wider selection of beers.
At this point, I can't lie, we were getting a little tipsy. While it's not like each of these beers is coming in a pint glass, they do keep coming. Fortunately, the staff at the Monk's Kettle is well prepared for happy beer drinkers and kept all of our water glasses full and kept quickly bringing out the food :-)
Our next stop on our international tour was in Denmark for Mikkeller Christmas Chokladbollar, served with a "traditional dessert" of chocolate balls rolled with oats and covered in coconut. I definitely got apricots on the nose of this one, but on the palate a different beast arose: nutmeg, cinnamon, chocolate - well, to me & Julie, this beer tasted exactly like Toll House chocolate chip cookies. To Phil, it was "Christmas in the mouth". Okay, at 11% ABV, we were more than tipsy, but did all love this beer and the chocolate balls that came along with it!
The dinner ended with a Belgium Redux: Struise Pannepøt (Quadrupel) at 10%. We all loved this beer. Julie thought it tasted like "a great espresso that you have with a dash of nutmeg". Sirena said simply, "This is good".
Chef Kevin Kroger has grown by leaps and bounds. This dinner was amazing, the pairings were intriguing, and the service was phenomenal. I really enjoy hearing directly from the importers and hearing various stories about the beers and the brewers.
Soon I'll be writing up the March dinner :-)
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I can't think of a better reason to take the train up to San Francisco than the Monk's Kettle's Beer Pairing dinner. My second (or was it third?) beer dinner there was the November 4th event hosted by Firestone Walker Brewing Company. We all got comfortable and finished our happy hour beers (note to self: happy hour beer not necessary when dinner comes with 6 beers) in our seats along the kitchen. It took me awhile to write this up, as I left my notes there and had to return again to retrieve them (for December's dinner). :)
Our host welcomed us and quickly told us, "No driving. The training wheels are off. These are real beers," and beer service began! All of these beers were barrel aged and got their primary fermentation in oak barrels, and they got stronger as the night went on.
We started with a nice English style pale ale poured from the cask, Double Barrel Ale. It was light and fruity, coming in at a nice 5%. This was paired with a delightful crostini with white bean puree and olive tapenade. YUM! This small amuse-bouche was delicious and a great way to start.
The salad course was served with a saison, Lil' Opal. We learned that this beer was actually an accident when it was created when a batch of Big Opal ended up too much sugar. I love happy little surprises like this! We all loved this beer, for its lemony and sweet flavor, with just a touch of hoppiness. My friend Lucas said, "It tastes like when doves cry". An unexpected and apt 80s references. but... then the salad came. The salad itself (red Belgian endives, baby letuces, shaved red onion, pomegranate seeds and feta) was delicious, but the "Lil' Opal Vinaigrette" did not pair well with the beer, changing the flavor to a distinctly PBR taste. Not terrible, but nowhere near as good as the beer tasted without the food. In the future, I hope that Chef Kevin stays away from vinegar in these dinners.
My favorite course was the house-cured bacon stuffed dates drizzled with a balsamic reduction and topped with pickled shallots, served with house made cheddar bread. They came with Walker's Reserve, a very robust porter. Four pounds of oatmeal go into each barrel, along with chocolate malt and cascade hops. The beer I could've repeated this course several times - delicious!
(Yes, I know Balsamic is a vinegar, but in this reduction, it was sweet and not acidic.)
The main course was "A Drunken Lamb, A Rare Bird" - the lamb leg had been marinated in the beer that was paired with the course, Black Xantus, and came out very tender and the match was made in heaven. The Black Xantus was a Russian Imperial Stout, made with Mexican coffee which made for a slightly bitter, but very nice, flavor. This is a beer that can really get you in trouble, coming in at 11% ABV!
For dessert, the scrumptious chocolate fondant cake was served hot with a side of Chantilly cream and mint. There were also some "drunken Fuyu persimmons", but they had been left in the "cheap" bourbon a bit too long and we couldn't really eat them.
The bonus? Dessert came with two beers! Yay! Abucus, which was an American Barleywine coming in at 12% ABV, paired wonderfully with the chocolate cake, with its own dark cherry and chocolate flavors soaring when enjoyed together with the cake. I also enjoyed the Firestone Twelve (which had been cellared for one year), another 12% ABV. The Twelve had been aged in bourbon and brandy barrels, and then blended.
I really enjoy these dinners, as there is no rush, service is outstanding, and you get to hear directly from the brewers so you fall in love with the beer as much as they have. And while the event is not rushed, the staff is aware that we've all come via public transport and we always finish with time to pay the bill and get to the Caltrain station. :)