Chef Ciarán Duffy and the staff at Tristan, the elegant Euro-American restaurant located in the French Quarter Inn in the Market, have the grace, sophistication, and open-mindedness to recognize a great gastronomic match: great beer with great food.
On Tues. Oct. 17, they welcomed Grant Wood, the brewery production manager for Samuel Adams and the Boston Beer Company, for the "Samuel Adams Beer Dinner" – of which the City Paper was a guest.
In his initial presentation, held in the cozy lounge area off the main entrance, Wood introduced the six styles of Samuel Adams beers for the evening and shared samples of the main ingredients that went into them – whole English and German hops and a variety of malted and roasted barleys (crystal, chocolate, etc.). He emphasized the fact that his brewery is willing to put the extra time, money, and effort into finding and using the highest quality hops and malts – and avoiding neutralizing adjuncts, such as corn, rice, or extra sugar – in order to present an exceptional beer.
"Beer is better with food than wine," Wood asserted; the statement received a few funny looks across the room. "It really is for a number of reasons. It's lower in alcohol and matches up well with different food without overpowering any flavors. With a combination of ingredients, it allows a better flavor variety, whereas wine is fermented from only one main ingredient [the fruit]. There's more complexity being thrown at the plate. And there's a consistency and freshness to beer; brewers don't get away with the whole 'vintage thing' that vintners have, where this year is better than that year, and so on. We feel we can offer a high-quality beer to a high-quality, tablecloth restaurant."
Samuel Adams recently expanded their selection and released a "Brewmaster's Collection" this year. Packaged as variety 12-pack, the collection includes Boston Lager, Light, Hefeweizen, Boston Ale, Scotch Ale, and Black Lager.
"Chefs are using more complex and flavorful ingredients in their recipes that often overpower the taste of wine," said Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch. "A quality beer like Samuel Adams can stand up to these bold tastes. The beers in the 'Brewmaster's Collection' work especially well when cooking and pairing beer with food, as the mix pack offers a wide variety of brews to please the palate."
As an appropriate kick-off, Tristan's bar staff served the award-winning Sam Adams Light in tulip-shaped glasses during the presentation. The malt flavor and citrusy hop aroma of this "light" lager contradicts the typically watery character of most American "light" beers.
Served with the first course – a pine nut/cornmeal crusted fried oyster and blue cheese plate – was the Brown Ale, a robust, medium-bodied, hoppy variation of the English style, which matched up well with the tanginess of the oyster/cheese combo.
The brewery's light Cherry Wheat complemented the spinach salad, prepared with foie gras shallot vinaigrette (it was so delicate that if the light foie gras wasn't mentioned on the menu, no one would have even known), onion, bacon, and fried beet chip.
The light and crisp Hefeweizen, an American take on the Bavarian classic, could easily have paired with the oyster dish, but fit well with the lightly-breaded butterfish fish and chips plate. Samuel Adams uses its own proprietary ale yeast (rather than a Bavarian variety, which can produce intense clove or banana "ester" and aromas). It was an excellent complement to the delicate flavors of the fish and potatoes.
The Boston Lager – the company's versatile, amber-colored rendition of a dark German lager – was paired with Chef Duffy's impressive beef short rib osso buco, a rich, caramel-sweet main course.
One of the highlights of the evening came with dessert. The mahogany-colored Samuel Adams Black Lager, based loosely on the Schwarzbier specialty brewed in Thüringen, Germany, was a smooth, clean, malty match with the light chocolate torte and caramel sprinkled with Portuguese sea salt. The Black Lager is a fine example of a dark beer with a lighter body than some might expect. It would have gone just as well with the seafood or salad dishes, too.
As a bold finale, Wood brought out a bottle of the brewery's rare Utopias – a barrel-aged "beer" with a massive 25 percent alcohol (by volume). At 50-proof, it's officially the strongest beer in the world. It looks and smells more like brandy and tastes like a sweet, fortified wine/scotch/beer hybrid – the perfect digestif to an elegant beer 'n' food tasting. –T. Ballard Lesemann