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. :)