Of Beer and Pairings (with Beer For Brains)
The last 2 days of AZ Beer Week were probably my favorite. I was able to attend two fantastic dinners and taste a myriad of delicious beer all while supporting a good cause. I only have pictures of the event on Thursday, as I managed to somehow forget my camera (still banging my head on the wall for this) for the larger Friday event. Though in my defense, I was working at the event, so I’m using that as justification. Thursday night was a Strong Ale dinner hosted by Beer for Brains and AZ Girls’ Pint Out at Taggia restaurant in Scottsdale. Beer for Brains founder Louis Dolgoff was very warm and welcoming while sharing his story, which you can read more about on the foundation’s website, as well as very eager to share some strong ales with the 25 of us that made reservations for the exclusive dinner.
The beers and paired food for the evening were:
- Appetizer: Mozzerella in Carozza, Goat cheese and pepperonata bruschetta with Coming Home Ale – Grand Teton and Old Ruffian – Great Divide
- 2nd Course: House smoked salmon, stewed wild mushroom/heirloom tomato/cannellini beans with Theobroma – Dogfish Head
- 3rd Course: Tricolor salad, sweet mustard vinaigrette/candied pecans/piave cheese with Burton Baton – Dogfish Head
- 4th Course: Prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin, homemade fruit mostarda/soft polenta with Cockeyed Cooper – Uinta “Crooked” line and Hopsickle – Moylan’s
- 5th Course/Dessert: Chocolate stuffed zeppole with The Abyss – Deschutes
4th Course: Proscuitto wrapped pork tenderloin with polenta
Friday was a much larger event, aptly titled The Epicuriad, featuring 10 local chefs from area restaurants, each partnered with a local winery and brewery to create a dish that paired with a specific wine and another dish that paired with a specific beer which people could then vote on to decide whether the wine or beer pairing was more appropriate or preferable. I wish I had a menu or list of the many different foods that were prepared as well as the wines and brews served alongside, but I do have a list of the chefs and their respective restaurants as well as which wineries and breweries were paired with them (from the Beer For Brains event page):
Chef Beau MacMillan, Elements @ Sanctuary Camelback Mountain
Page Springs- Vino del Barrio
SanTan Epicenter Amber
Chef Aaron May, Iruna
San Tan Devils Ale
Chef James Porter, Petite Maison
Arizona Stronghold- “Nachise” Red Wine
Papago Oude Zupiers
Chef Alex Padilla, Taberna
Pillsbury Wine-WildChild White “Crop Circles”
Grand Canyon Pilsner
Chef James Siao, Taggia @ Firesky Resort & Spa
Pillsbury Wine-Roan Red
Chef Comer Smith, Cielo @ Hotel Theodore
Jerome Winery-Red-confirming the blend
Four Peaks Hefeweizen
Chef Dustin Christofolo, The House at Secret Garden
Jerome Winery- White-confirming the blend
Sonoran White Chocolate Ale
Chef Josh Hebert, Posh – “Improvisational Cuisine”
Dos Cabeazas- Toscana Red Blend
Sonoran Burning Bird
Chef Ce Bian, Roka Akor
Page Springs-La Flor Rosa- Pink Table Wine
Four Peaks SunBru
Christopher Gross, Christopher’s Crush
Cimmaron- Roja del Sol Red Blend
Grand Canyon Amber
I have to say, all of the pairings that I tried were fantastic (though I only stuck to beer…I’m not much of a wino), and I especially enjoyed the dish made by Chef James Porter from Petite Maison, which was scallops, which I have never enjoyed the consistency of, over a bed of some sort of risotto-type rice drizzled with a duck fat sauce that was to die for. I couldn’t savor the flavors any more than I did or my plate would have gone cold – and I didn’t want to go back for seconds (or thirds, or fourths…) because I wanted to try some of the other pairings. The best part about this meal for me, other than the fact that it was ridiculously delicious and smooth, was the beer paired with it: Papago’s Oude Zuipers, an “authentic Belgian Tripel”. Yeah, I still can’t figure out how to pronounce it and I even went to the brewery the next day to try it on its own. This pairing stuck out to me the most, if not because the beer completely took me by surprise, but because I may now be open to trying scallops, granted I have the right beverage to go with it. Another pairing that worked extremely well for me was Chef Dustin Christofolo’s (what tasted like lightly grilled) shrimp on a bed of soft polenta/grits with crispy pancetta (or prosciutto, I know it started with a “p”) bits sprinkled over it and Sonoran’s White Chocolate Ale as a drink. The light and buttery shrimp accompanied by the light and sweet white chocolate beer was too good to turn away.
Somewhere in the middle of the event, I was brought a very light and surprisingly fluffy, though fairly dense…basically an anomaly of a chocolate cheesecake made by Iruna’s Chef Aaron May, with a Devil’s Ale by SanTan, which turned out to pair just as well as everything else had thus far: the sharpness and bitterness of the beer being smoothed out by the richness of the cheesecake while bringing the cheesecake to a whole other level. Who would think to pair beer with cheesecake? The people who worked on the pairings are geniuses, pure and simple; I can only hope to refine my palate to the point that I can recommend a particular beverage with a particular type of food and have the flavors play off of one anothers’ strengths while gently caressing each others’ ingredients and textures. It’s definitely an art, that’s for sure. The only pairing I wasn’t too keen on was a pulled/shredded pork taco with an aioli sauce and thinly sliced cucumbers on a small corn tortilla made by Chef Beau MacMillan from Elements – which was absolutely mouthwatering, don’t get me wrong – but it was paired with SanTan’s Epicenter Ale, which lately I’ve found to be rather bland and boring. I didn’t think the taco was all that spicy or too flavorful that it had to be mellowed out with the amber ale, but to each his own. The food supported the beer just fine otherwise.
Trying to continue broadening my culinary horizons, I ended the evening in a marsh with a white bean alligator chili with a buttery creamed corn whip on top. Unfortunately, this is the one that escapes me, as I can’t remember the chef or the restaurant. I do believe that it was being paired with Four Peaks Sunbru, but I’m not positive as signs were being taken down, so I’m not going to label it definitively. I do however, now know that alligator tastes remarkably like chicken, that the aforementioned buttery creamed corn whip was so delightful that the chef even allowed me to have a forkful of the stuff just to further ascertain how truly fluffy and whipped it was while still tasting like sweet corn, and that I can say I’ve eaten alligator. Previous to having eaten alligator, the scallops I tried not two hours before were the oddest thing I tried. I’m kidding, of course, but I’m not one to seek out animals just so I can eat them. If they’re served to me in a chili, though, I’m almost positive I won’t turn it down. I decided to pair the chili with the delicious corn whip with Sonoran’s Burning Bird Pale Ale, and if I do say so myself, it tasted rather delightful.
All in all, about 150 people were present for the tastings, not counting those behind the booths cooking the food, serving the food, representing and pouring the wine and beer and restocking all manners of plates, silverware, and glasses. The event went off without a hitch, everyone was extremely cheerful and generous (someone was walking around with Brewdog’s Sink the Bismarck! and pouring it for people to try), and from what I could see, everyone went home happy and with a great experience to talk about and reflect on. I hope that Louis and the Beer for Brains foundation have reached at least a few more people and were able to spread the word about the beautiful group established in honor of his late wife. If you’d like to find out more about Beer For Brains and see pictures from other people who attended this event, please visit the Beer For Brains Facebook page and think about donating to this cause.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of AZ Beer Week. Until next year at least…I’m starting the countdown now! Cheers!