As you may have gathered, I like beer and have enjoyed it for a few years now. I don't mean I enjoy it like a college guy; I enjoy if for the variety and fun and what it can bring to a meal. I have developed over the years an appreciation for a good food, too. Appetizers, main courses, and the occasional desserts. Those that can pull them off make the world a better place!
So, it was with great delight when I learned last year that the Big Bear Lodge offered the occasional beer dinner. Get this. Five different beers with five courses. What more could a beer snob ask for? Last Thursday, I made it to the beer dinner highlighting beer from the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.
The zucchini/cheese toasts were okay, but who in the world would have thought that a blue cheese and roasted grape pizzetta would be awesome? It was exactly that! A little 6 inch pizza with blue cheese and grapes! Holy crap! I could have eaten them all night. The Indian Brown Ale appears to be a IPA (India Pale Ale) and brown ale hybrid. While it was a bit cold and bit hard to gather the aroma, it was a well hopped brown ale, basically. Very dark (as you would expect) with lots of caramel and brown sugar tones. A bit on the thick side, it was sweet with a complicated hoppy taste (the IPA part). A fine way to start the evening. I was offered another pizza but knowing I hade four more courses coming, I declined.
Heirloom tomato salad was the next course. It was some lettuce, tomatos (duh!) and parmesian cheese crisps stacked like a sandwich and drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing. While I totally dig tomatos in salsas, for example, this salad did not do much for me. ( The fact I may have some tomato allergy issues didn't help.) Don't get me wrong - it was good - but would have been perfectly okay with a "regular salad."
The "beer", on the other hand, is a must. The Midas Touch Golden Elixir (basically a beer-wine-mead combo) is literally a modern version of an ancient recipe taken from what is believed to be the tomb of King Midas (not the muffler guy). Vessels recovered from the tomb in 1947 were recently analyzed using methods of Molecular Archaeology. It was concluded that the vessels held beer! The known ingredients were turned to the brewers at Dogfish Head and they whipped up the Golden Elixir. The barley, grapes, honey, and saffron all combine to make a super beer. Very very sweet, as you might imagine. Give it a go.
Beer #503 came with the main course: The 90-Minute IPA. It was a deep yellow/orange color, but the first clue for the beer was the aroma. Very "flowery". I knew the hops were really going to come through in the finish just by the smell. It was not particularly dry on the palate, but the finish lingered for longer than I had hoped. Fortunately, thanks to the wizards who planned the meal, the Peach Chicken with fresh Corn Cakes offset the hoppy taste. Straight up, I would give the beer a 4 out of 5. Keep in mind, though: I'm not really an IPA guy so I guess this is good! Scuttlebutt at the dinner said it was $60.00 a case....
By this point, mind you, I was basically done. No, not drunk-done (I'm not in college anymore); it more like "my stomach is going to burst" done. The pizza, toast, salad, and chicken packed me full. Imagine yourself after a Thanksgiving meal, you're not even close. I was hoping the waitstaff could take me to my car on a dolly.
While an unbuckled belt and nap where in order, we pressed on to the Intermezzo: cheese truffles with the End of Summer Harvest Fruits. Basically, cheese balls rolled in stuff and grapes. Blue cheese with bacon, feta cheese with walnuts, and goat cheese with pecans were the main part while the grapes were for palate cleansing between the cheeses and beer. #504 was the Palo Santo Marron. Absolutely fantastic. Palo Santo is a tree from Paraquay. 10,000 gallon vessels made from the wood (which is so heavy it sinks in water) accomodate this beer while it ages to perfection. The color was basically black (think motor oil) and aroma of vanilla was very strong. It was heavy and creamy on the palate. Unfortunatley, in a good way, I can't even begin to describe the taste. Complicated and awesome is an understatement. The finish was smooth. 5 out of 5. Hands down, the best beer of the night.
Dessert (like I had any room for it) was a Plum and Golden Raisen Tart with the Raisin D'Erte. While the tart was great, the beer wasn't. I have had it before. I can't get past the odd color (brown-purple) and the funky taste. Odd ingredients can make for a great beer, but I think raisins should be used in gorps and trail mixes, not beer.
All in all, a fine evening. While this was at least my third beer dinner here, it was the first I went to solo. A tip of the hat and clink of the glass, as my tablemates put it, to my "Brothers and Sisters in beer!"