Scott Shor, Rich Carley, and Brandon Plyler — the fellows at the local bottle shop Charleston Beer Exchange — regularly collaborate with several local chefs to present fine beer dinners and special events, but they might have outdone themselves this week at Oak Steakhouse. Working with head chef Jeremiah Bacon and his top-notch team of cooks and servers, they hosted the Ultimate Beer Dinner on Mon. Aug. 15 and showcased a slew of rare and unusual brews from Baltimore-based Stillwater Artisan Ales and Denmark's Evil Twin Brewing. At capacity with 25 diners in attendance, the eight-course, nine-beer event ran for more than five hours in the elegant third floor dining room.
During his tenure at Carolina's, Bacon helped pioneer the art and act of presenting beer dinners in Charleston over the last few years during, delivering wonderful parings between mostly local fare and a variety of ales and lagers. This event at Oak was the first beer dinner at the Broad Street venue. The menu featured an eclectic mix of Lowcountry produce, seafood, pork, beef, and venison.
Charleston Beer Exchange described the three featured guests of the night as "amazing craft beer superstars." Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin, and Brian Ewing of Brooklyn's 12% Imports concluded a short tour of West Coast and East Coast cities in Charleston with a casual meet and greet at the Charleston Beer Exchange and the dinner at Oak. The young brewers looked more like bandmates in an indie-rock group than world-famous zymurgists known for producing extraordinary ales. All three seemed genuinely excited to share the unique beers of the evening and discuss the ideas behind brewing them.
As homebrewers, Strumke and Jarnit-Bjergsø developed affinities for unusual styles of beer, from Belgian farmhouse ales to high-gravity seasonals and wood-aged specialties. In recent years, they developed a nomadic style of contract brewing, traveling to various commercial breweries with their own odd recipes. They both offered samples of their best offerings.
Ewing spoke about his company's preference for small-batch breweries. "The product is rare and not cheap, so we work to make sure it ends up in the right hands," he said. He met Strumke at a beer festival, and he encountered Jarnit-Bjergsø while sharing a Kreik ale in Denmark.
Strumke introduced the first beer of the evening, the crisp and nicely balanced Stateside Saison (6.8 percent a.b.v.), which arrived with passed hors d'oeuvres of fried oysters over deviled eggs, crostini with beef and cheese, and fried macaroni balls. Brewed with Nelson hops with a Belgian ale yeast, the hazy-golden ale started malty and grassy but finished dry and clean.
Jarnit-Bjergsø told the first of several amusing stories of the night as he introduced his first beer. He began homebrewing in Copenhagen in June 2003. He currently runs the now world-famous bottle shop Ølbutikken. He brewed the curiously-named Ryan and the Beaster Bunny ale (7 percent a.b.v.) at "an island brewery" in Fanø. Served with a salad of chewy grilled octopus, orange, and thinly-sliced radishes, the orange/golden Saison-style ale boasted a strong tangerine flavor and aroma, which complemented the dish nicely.
Brewed with wheat malt, Citra and Sterling hops, and a Saison yeast, Stillwater's complex and delicate Cellar Door (6.6 percent a.b.v.) followed in the light, pale, summer-friendly style, offering more citrus flavors and musty aromas. Its refreshing flavor and dry finish paired well with the butter but lightly textured butternut squash and goat cheese ravioli (one of the most refined dishes of the night).
The Two Gypsies-Our Side ale (7.5 percent a.b.v.) — a collaboration between Stillwater and Jarnit-Bjergsø's twin brother Mikkel Borg Bjergsø's Mikkeller brewery — was a fruity, highly aromatic, hop-accented cross between an IPA and a Saison. The hop bitterness cleansed the fattiness of Bacon's impressive plate of crispy pork belly and cabbage.
The final four pairings were a bit heavier, with the brewers' stronger and darker ales pairing well with some of more savory dishes of the night. Stillwater's woody, fruity Chardonnay Barrel-Aged Stateside Saison (7.2 percent a.b.v.) enhanced the brothy, peppery flavor of Capers Island clams with fennel and pastina. Even more bold, Stillwater's earthy Bourbon Barrel Aged Existent (7.6 percent a.b.v.) — a strong Saison with more oak, roasted malt, and hop flavor than expected — paired up wonderfully to the dish of thinly sliced venison, parsnip mash, and grilled cipollinni onions.
Three of Evil Twin's sturdiest ales accompanied the next two courses. First came a double-beer serving of Evil Twin Yin (an imperial stout at 10 percent a.b.v.) and Evil Twin Yang (an imperial IPA at 10 percent a.b.v.), served separately but intended for blending in a larger glass. The twosome was Jarnit-Bjergsø's version of a traditional black and tan. The Yin was amber-pale, alcoholic, and very hoppy. The Yang was quite roasty with a full-bodied, chocolate-heavy flavor and finish. Served with braised tender Niman Ranch shortribs and a thinly-sliced grilled flat iron steak, it was the richest pairing of the night.
Evil Twin's Ashtray Heart (8.9 percent a.b.v.), a massively malty and smoky Russian imperial stout, closed the main menu with an assortment of petit fours (the smoked chocolate with rosemary was a big hit). Jarnit-Bjergsø offered a nice surprise for a nightcap: his acclaimed and very rare blueberry lambic-style ale Cantillon Blåbær Lambik (6 percent a.b.v.). The dark-red, effervescent, bottle-conditioned ale burst with berry fruitiness and sourness in the aroma and flavor. A winey, oak flavor accented the finish. It was an excellent palate-cleansing conclusion to a very special night of beer and food.