September Beer Dinner
Wed. Sept. 24, 7 p.m.
10 Exchange St.
Reservations are required
"I always come out and talk to folks at the end of these monthly beer dinners," says Jeremiah Bacon, executive chef of Carolina's. "At each dinner, I find people who never thought of pairing beer with food like this. So it's the breaking out of that old mold."
Bacon designed Carolina's beer dinner series to highlight the complexities of beer, making them every bit as elegant as any wine dinner in town.
"Designing the menu is fun because we get the kitchen staff involved," Bacon says. "We'll be tasting different Oktoberfest beers this week for next month's dinner. The staff is a bunch of beer-drinking guys anyway, but it's a great chance for them to have input on a menu."
Bacon demonstrated his knack for tasting beer at a five-course Sierra Nevada beer dinner in August. The early courses featured the lighter-bodied Sierra Nevada Wheat and Sierra Nevada Summerfest Ale, which were paired with paper-thin duck prosciutto and grilled squid, respectively. The unfiltered wheat held up admirably under the chargrilled flavor of the toast that the proscuitto was served with, and a topping of sweet onion compote and Idiazábal cheese complemented the beer's grainy malt flavor. The wheat is one of the lightest-hopped selections from a brewery known for its bitter ales. And the squid matched nicely with the spicy, flowery hops of the Summerfest — a refreshing, light-flavored selection and the only lager brewed by Sierra Nevada. A bolder beer would have easily distorted the subtle spiciness and textures of this dish.
The next three courses featured some of the brewery's "big guns" — Sierra Nevada's flagship Pale Ale, Porter, and a newly-released American-style I.P.A. ("India Pale Ale") called Anniversary Ale. The intensely citrus and caramel flavors of the Pale Ale accented the crisp flavor of the sautéed local snapper served with bok choy, mushrooms, and kumquat puree. To stand up to spicy roasted stuffed quail (with leeks), a richer style of ale is preferable, and the amber-red, aromatically hoppy Anniversary Ale did the trick without overpowering any of the earthy flavors of the dish.
The final course was the standout of the night. Bacon served a chocolate Napoleon with a snifter of Sierra Nevada Porter, one of the darkest and boldest beers from the brewery. A bit of the porter was infused in the mousse and topped with a delicious espresso bean ice cream. A sweeter, smoother beer could not have balanced the potent chocolate sugariness and coffee flavors of the dessert. Fortunately, the roasty graininess and grassy hop bitterness of the Porter actually enhanced the robustness.
This month's beer dinner, scheduled for Wed. Sept. 24, has a bubbly Belgian theme.
"We thought this would be fun for a variety of reasons," says the chef. "One is to feature Duvel, which blew me away the first time I tried it. Another is to offer some of the tasty abbey beers. This is the first dinner where we've actually used beers from different breweries. They're all Belgian, but they're different high-gravity styles from different regions."
The first of five courses features steamed mussels with the deceptively strong blonde Duvel ale, followed by local shrimp and collards with the zesty, bottle-conditioned golden ale from the La Chouffe brewery.
The third and fourth courses feature a double-shot from the monastic brewery at the Abbey of Maredsous: a confit of pork shoulder with creamed spinach paired with Maredsous Triple, a cellared, sparkling, spicy golden ale standing tall at 10 percent alcohol (by volume); and a pan-roasted partridge with lentils and parsnips, served with the darker, more caramel-accented, less alcoholic Maredsous Dubbel. The final course finds Nougatine Brownies pared with beer-infused semifreddo, paired with the unfiltered, mahogany-colored d'Achouffe Brown Ale, from the Achouffe Brewery.
Bubbly, aromatic, and complex, many of the classic ales in Belgium almost fit the description of fine sparkling wines and champagnes — and are presented in a similar fashion. The wine-like brews at this month's event might actually convert a few wine drinkers to a wider world of palatable possibilities.