"This dinner is local, local, local," emphasized Carolina's Chef Jeremiah Bacon, speaking to a full room of diners at the downtown restaurant's elegant beer dinner on Wednesday night. He wasn't kidding around. Each of the event's five courses — from the ales of Palmetto Brewing Company to the locally-harvested produce and seafood — was assembled and arranged from fresh, Lowcountry ingredients.
Chef Bacon and his staff are known for their creativity and delightful pairings, and Wednesday's beer-infused menu and service were well above par. On hand were Sustainable Seafood Initiative Coordinator Megan Westmeyer (also of the South Carolina Aquarium), Palmetto Brewing Company owner Ed Falkenstein and head brewer Michael Davis, "Clammer Dave" Belanger (a local clam farmer who works along north Dewees Island and Capers Inlet), and Larry Lipov, president of Pearlstine Distributors. The tag-team hosts' presentation was more of an educational program than previous beer dinners have been.
From course to course, Westmeyer spoke passionately about where and how each seafood item was gathered. She explained the delicate balance of ecological, environmental, and economic situations, and described the levels of sustainability within. She expressed her organization's desire to "inspire conservation in the natural world." Thorough and witty, Westmeyer's presentations segued well into Falkenstein's amusing mini-speeches about the original Palmetto brew house that once stood just north of the Market (replete with tales of bootleggers, corrupt constables, and local rebels). Introducing each beer, he described his team's brewing procedures and the types of malts, hops, and special ingredients they used.
Palmetto's commercially-available beers are filtered but unpasteurized, allowing them to condition and age in the bottle. As a special treat for the attendees, they provided two new ales in the works (Falkenstein called them "pilot brews"), which were available directly from small kegs and poured by pitcher from table to table.
The first course featured one of the new beers — a hazy-golden watermelon wheat beer, made with melons from Legare Farms on Johns Island. Falkenstein explained how they added pureed watermelon to the young wheat beer in the fermentation tanks after the initial brew. Paired with a delicately-cut pickled shrimp over fresh arugula, thinly-sliced red onion, and sunflower seed salad, the fruity, sweet-tasting ale balanced the vinegar acidity in the salad. It tasted a little young and rind-y, but had a surprisingly clean, dry finish. This light ale should be available by next spring.
Up next came the Palmetto Lager, a hearty pilsner with a zingy, Czech-style hop flavor and toasty malt-accented aroma. The saltiness of the ricotta-filled gnudi (resembling soft gnocci or cylindrical ravioli) and succulent, tender baby clams — steamed and served off the shell — accentuated the lager's hop and malt character.
Although triggerfish was on the original menu for the third course, a delicately sautéed vermilion snapper made it onto the plate over steamed bok choy (Westmeyer noted that the recent tropical storms off the Carolina coast affected the recent catches). Garnished with a light mustard emulsion and a small, sweet, grilled cipollini onion, the flaky, peppery snapper accompanied the malty, caramel-tinged Palmetto Amber ale, one of the brewery's most popular selections.
The beer dinner concluded with two big-flavored, dark-colored ales. The reddish-black Chocolate Bock, due in stores this fall, came paired with pan-roasted grouper (locally-caught "gag grouper," as Westmeyer pointed out), chopped cabbage baby limas, and a brothy pork jus. At seven percent alcohol (by volume), this German-style lager was lighter end of the scale, but its deep color was by far on the darker side of the spectrum. Brewed with dark malts, and a light dose of German and American hops, the lager steps away from Deutsch traditional with a healthy dose of bitter German chocolate (provided by local chocolatier John E. Battles). Notes of burgundy wine, butterscotch, and baker's chocolate dominated the aroma, while the flavor featured a sweeter chocolate breadiness. (This big-flavored specialty will surely earn praise in the coming fall and winter months).
The Chocolate Bock could easily have accompanied the rich dessert course of flourless chocolate cake and espresso ice cream, but the black, malty Palmetto Porter did the job nicely. Palmetto only recently started adding a little cold-extracted, espresso-roast coffee (obtained from their Huger Street neighbors, Charleston Coffee Roasters) to the recipe, and the coffee character was conspicuous in the aroma and flavor of the already roasty ale. This double-shot of dark Palmetto beers marked a bold end to a delicious dinner.