It's encouraging when a beer-related event sells out during a food and wine celebration. It demonstrates just how far beer has come during the modern craft brewing revolution.
The Charleston Wine + Food Festival's Here's to Beer series drew a full house at Cypress on Sat. March 5. It was one of several dinners of the week that offered fine ales and lagers alongside good wine and local cuisine. Hosted by Executive Chef Craig Deihl, Boston Beer Company representative Bert Boyce, and local Pearlstine Distributors Inc. exec Larry Lipov, the dinner took place in the elegant private dining room upstairs. Boyce tended to be a bit long-winded and rambling, but his enthusiasm was genuine, and his knowledge was vast.
Boyce called for show of hands at the start of the first course to see who had never been to a beer dinner before. More then two-thirds of the crowd raised their hands. Many of them were probably already aware of Deihl's vast experience with pairing wine and food, so, despite their allegiance to vino, they likely reserved seats with a great level of trust in the chef.
After a few light appetizers of ham, miniature house-made wieners, and fried chicken livers, Boyce introduced the six styles of Samuel Adams beers for the evening and shared samples of the main ingredients, malted barley, and fresh hops. The first course featured the lightest ale of the evening, the Sam Adams Coastal Wheat — a hazy, golden-colored American-style wheat beer flavored with fresh lemon zest. The citrus and bready flavors of the beer nicely complemented the zesty plate of pickled shrimp, peppers, onions, baby turnips, and parsley.
The second course arrived with handsome, delicate slices of head cheese, artisan-cured soppressata, and pâté alongside stone-ground mustard and flaky lard biscuits. The intensely malty-sweet, brown-ruby Sam Adams Double Bock (9.5 percent a.b.v.) was a bit heavy for the dish, but the roasted caramel flavors matched the smoky gaminess of the charcuterie pretty well.
The pairing of the main dish of braised lamb shoulder was even heavier. The high-gravity Sam Adams Imperial Stout (9.2. percent a.b.v.) — one of the brewery's darkest, maltiest varieties — was almost a meal in itself. Roasty with hints of raisins, espresso, and oak, the stout almost shocked a few of the unsuspecting wine drinkers at our table. Served in a stout-infused broth with three very large pieces of goat's milk ricotta gnochi, the lamb was beautiful and delicious. A more standard-strength stout, porter, or brown ale might have better suited the dish. Great big flavors are one thing, but the texture and body of a food and beer pairing play into things as well.
The dessert course of coffee chocolate sponge cake received a loud cheer as it arrived alongside samples of the Sam Adams Cream Stout (4.9 percent a.b.v.). The beer's dark chocolate and coffee flavors accented the velvety smoothness of the cake and the nutty sweetness of the butterscotch froth and candied almond. An additional, off-menu dessert course of vanilla panna cotta with plum jam was a nice surprise. Garnished with candied/cured lemon peel, the panna cotta was served with the barrel-aged Sam Adams American Kriek (7 percent a.b.v.), a tart, cherry-based, complex ale inspired by the Belgian lambic style.
With high-quality beers like these from the Boston Beer Company, Deihl and his team created some wonderful flavor profiles. Even the snobbiest wine folks enjoyed the tasting experience.