On the heels of the cozy Aug. 5 beer dinner that highlighted local micro Coast Brewing Co., the Mellow Mushroom in Mt. Pleasant welcomed an even bigger group of beer enthusiasts on Mon. Aug. 17 for an event featuring ale from Bell's Brewery (based in Kalamazoo, Mich.). Visiting from Richmond, Va., Derek Zomonski, Bell's amiable cicerone, played host to about 35 diners who were seated around the main dining room's mushroom sculpture centerpiece.
A Midwestern favorite, Bell's is actually one of the very first craft breweries to start production east of the Rockies. Over the course of the evening, Zomonski told several colorful stories about brewery founder Larry Bell and the company's ascension from a homebrewing stove-top start-up to a full-sized factory operation. He touched on Bell's passion for British ales and German wheat beers and explained how he helped devise the beer/food pairings for the four courses of the evening.
Bell's standard Pale Ale (5.2 percent alcohol by volume) came first, accompanied by an appetizer of marinated olives. Next a mixed green salad tossed with yellow heirloom tomatoes, green olives, and a light vinaigrette came paired with a flavorful American-style wheat beer called Oberon Ale (5.8 percent a.b.v.). Hazy and golden-colored, this yeasty wheat beer balanced the fruity/spicy aromas and flavors of traditional Bavarian weizens with the crisp, citrusy hoppiness of popular American pale ales. The mild spiciness complemented the earthy flavor of the tomatoes. Next up was the Bell's Amber Ale, the brewery's maltier flagship brand (5.8 percent a.b.v.) alongside a handsome bowl of garlic-accented tomato bisque topped with caramelized onions, basil, and a homemade crouton. The sweet, caramel-malt flavor of the light brown ale balanced the sharp zing of the hearty soup (a large helping of the bisque and the Amber Ale would make a great autumn lunch).
The beer dinner closed with very malty two dark ales — the Bell's Porter (5.6 percent a.b.v.) and the Bell's Kalamazoo Stout (six percent a.b.v.). In a bold move, they paired the complex, chocolatey, medium-bodied porter (Zomonski called it "a workingman's beer") with a brick oven "Magical Mystery Pie" mini pizza topped with pesto, baby spinach, mozzarella, button and portobello mushrooms, and sliced jalapeños. A spicy pizza like this normally calls for an ice-cold golden lager, but the porter's sweet malt flavors actually helped accent the basil/jalapeño.
The grand finale featured a thin slice of chocolate topped with fresh raspberries, blueberries, and shaved chocolate, and chocolate syrup. Introducing the Kalamazoo Stout, Zomonski told the crowd, "Dessert and stout have an affinity for each other," as he described the roasty malt flavor and drinkability. Deep, rich chocolate desserts really go well with strong-flavored stout or porter. As an extra bonus, the host brought small samples of Bell's mighty Expedition Stout — an imperial-style high-gravity ale (at a whopping 10.5 percent a.b.v.) with an intensely sherry aroma, a sharp roasted-barley bitterness, and a smooth, balanced finish — a pretty big bang at the end of a delicious dinner.
The pizzeria has a few more nicely-priced, four-course dinners planned. The next event is a Thomas Creek Beer Dinner on Wed. Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. A representative from the Upstate S.C. microbrewery will be on hand to present a variety of ales, lagers, and seasonals. See you there.