Presented by Amazing Grapes Beer Buyer Shawn Rockenbach, Owner/Brewmaster Mike Crea + Executive Chef Marinus Eikelboom
Sometimes I like to live vicariously through Jonathan Gold when I’m attending beer dinners – which is to say, I know what I’m eating, because I’ve done this before; I can relate to the endless hours of dedication put into the eclectic dishes, curated pairings and creating (as well as ceaselessly maintaining) the overall ambience. The beer dinner is a dance in which many actors wear many hats. The beer buyer. The brewmaster. The Server. The Kitchen Staff. The Chef. All of these roles must be aligned to elevate the dinner from an entertaining event to a truly triumphant success. As if serving an exclusive beer dinner and the house wasn’t enough of a task, the kitchen staff was also fired up for a busy night serving those who didn’t sign up for the beer event – which, for those who have been to beer dinners, is unheard of. Who maintains steady operations while simultaneously running a beer dinner? Amazing Grapes is, apparently, the (Amazing) answer
I get home, I snack, I get changed, I get dropped off, and, upon arrival, I was happily greeted by Shawn Rockenbach – Amazing Grapes’ Beer Buyer/Host. We chatted, talked shop (read: beer), and I was escorted to my seat with a smile. Speaking of which – I can’t remember a frown from the whole night. Nothing but smiles from everyone involved, guests and waitstaff alike (and not those cheesy, “can-I-get-you-another-beer?” smiles – you could tell they were having almost as good a time as the guests). The operative word “Almost”, hinges on the fact that we get to drink beer.
1st Course: Cream of Cauliflower, Crisp Kale + Smoked Lobster
With temperatures in the high 80’s, the though of soup on a hot day was hard to swallow. I wanted cold. Ever had a chilled sushi roll with real wasabi? It’s somehow cold-yet-hot. Well, this soup was perfectly hot-yet-cold. This cream of cauliflower soup, with earthy vegetal characteristics of the cauliflower, channeled its heat to bring refreshment. The clean seasoning, coupled with smoked lobster sitting elegantly beside to the soup, was an invitation to fall. Being a deconstructive eater, I play with my food – I want everything taken apart, and want it all to work together, and want to see that, when I’m done, nothing is left on the plate. This soup doesn’t come with directions – but the only logical choice was to to dip my lobster (and kale, and everything else) into the soup. Guess what happened (spoiler: it’s not a twist ending)? A delicious polygamous marriage (shout-out to Brigham Young Culinary School!) – sweet smoked lobster meat, bright verdant flavors and creamy mouthfeel.
Pairing: Buzzman – ABV 5.2%
Buzzman is a refreshing hybrid cream-ale style made made by fermenting the wort at lager temperatures to create a clean, bright mouthfeel. At first sip this Mutant American Ale is earthy with pleasant hints of honeysuckle and mild hop character – Immediately the crispy kale and cauliflower fused with earthy characters of Buzzman. As for the smoked lobster it seemed to slightly overwhelm the flavor profile of this highly sessionable beer, however the finish was crisp and light with a balanced aftertaste.
2nd Course: Pan Seared Duck Confit, Sauerkraut, Bacon Foam + Onion Puree
Mmmm. Sauerkraut made from scratch is my jam (well, it’s not literally jam, but you know what I mean). Acidic. Fermented. Science. Centuries old tradition that stands out when nestled underneath juicy duck confit – essentially a bird that has been cooked in it’s own fat (#FatIsFlavor) for hours. This dish with the bacon foam and savory onion, compounded on the natural flavor of the meat. You could almost taste the late-night thinking of the chefs that dreamed up this dish – I’m literally eating the dream.
Pairing: Troglodyte Grisette – 4.9 ABV%
A classic belgian farmhouse ale brewed with 40% oats to exhude a creamy mouthfeel and it’s lovingly fermented with a belgian wit yeast strain. ‘Tout de suite’ the lush onion puree and acidic sauerkraut aroused the spice notes in the Grisette. The delicate, earthy notes of both the food and the beer made me feel as though I was dining at a rural German farm – I’m always a sucker for a Grisette or Saison.
3rd Course: Marzen Oktoberfest Roasted Red Partridge, Celeriac Puree, Cipollini Onions, Caramelized Pears, Kale + Demi Glace
Being an avid lover of exotic gamey meats I was ready to sink my fork into this bird. The partridge was perfectly roasted, glistening under the dimmed house lights – biting into the crispy skin ,then unearthing a juicy interior, was a treat. A full-flavored demi glace (made from the caracas) was generously drizzled on slow cooked pears, cipollini onions and celeriac puree. All components of this adventurous (for Rancho Santa Margarita) dish intermixed harmoniously together leaving nothing to be desired.
Pairing: Okterberfest/Marzenbier – ABV 5.5%
Paying homage to German tradition, Hunt and Crea’s version of Märzenbier is true-to-style, full-bodied, robust, pleasantly toasty and pours a beautiful dark copper hue. This malt-forward beer highlights the caramel-like flavors of melanoidin (an aromatic compound resulting from the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between sugar, amino acids, and heat that occurs when malt is kilned). This same reaction is responsible for the flavors in many foods—consider crispy toast and well-seared meat. Sharing the process for the source of a flavor creates wonderfully harmonious results – hence the beer from roasted malt and the savory skin of the dish.
4th Course: Pan Seared Pork Loin Sous Vide, Cracklin’, Potato Mousseline, Demi Glace + Crisp Baby Spinach
Presents are fun to unwrap, and this pork dish was a flavor present with numerous layers that were unveiled on the palate. The pork was succulent, the potato mousseline was buttery, frothy and smooth (CO2 charged love!). The pork belly cracklin’ and crispy spinach provided a crunchy bite to this pork centric dish. With a perfect portion size, this dish satisfied without overwhelming.
Pairing: Gnomis Pale Ale – ABV 6.0%
To compliment the savory, succulent, buttery dish was a crisp pale ale. With a beautiful, bitter bite, it cut through the fatty richness of the pork and scrubbed the palate clean. The contrast of flavor provided a fun, balancing note that served as a fantastic finish to the savory portion of the dinner.
5th Course: Deconstructed Sticky Toffee Pudding, Caramel Ice Cream, Toffee Sponge, Meringue, Hazelnut Brittle, Candied Orange
Pairing: Propeller Head Coffee Amber – ABV 6.0%
Sweet. Toothsome. Salty. This playful deconstructed sticky toffee pudding satisfied my craving for the makings of savory and sweet dessert. Mini meringues whimsically decorated the curves of every alcove on the black canvas while lustrous hazelnut brittle brought out crunchy highlights. This was, by far, my favorite pairing of the night. Coffee addicts will fall head over heels for this smooth coffee infused amber ale. Roasty aromas of Hidden House coffee beans hit the nose while malt features gave off rich toffee flavors on the palate.
Visit https://www.amazinggrapes.com for information regarding their next collaboration beer dinner!