Friday, June 25, 2010

BEERflections ~ Magic Hat Brewmaster Dinner @ Town Crier Pub

Before the brewery officially landed in Florida and my hometown of Vero Beach, I had tasted a handful of Magic Hat’s beers thanks to my extraordinarily superfantastic sister. Choosing to slowly and methodically make their way through my sunshine state, Magic Hat premiered with their not quite pale ale #9, a self-described pale ale cloaked in secrecy. They have also recently branched out into their Wacko, a summer ale brewed with beet sugar, a somewhat common addition in scattered Belgian brews though not necessarily as a main feature. Whereas the #9 is an approachable gateway beer of sessionable designs, I personally enjoyed the Wacko more for its funky approach to flavor stimulation.

Math has never been a personally popular subject of mine, but going by the above I find it hard to imagine a successful beer dinner rich with tastetacular courses held together by only two beers. A sneak preview of the menu thankfully assuaged those concerns with the premier of two new beers. Their Summer Odd Notion, a Ginger Ale of epic proportions immediately won over my table of beer geeks, yours truly included. Their other contender was the IPA On Tour, aka Blind Faith. Seeing as I am having difficulty remembering this particular beer in any substantial regard, it is safe to say she left the least noteworthy impression upon these tastebuds which I will expand on later.

Altogether I had an exciting five course dinner which featured the #9 not once but twice. Companion to both the Amuse Bouche and dessert, I was intrigued to taste how she varied when matched with two very different courses. There was little doubt in my mind that this particular aspect would provide much brew for thought.

My partners in crime that night were Marc Boland along with Joe and Linda Ringwald. The four of us eventually cozied up to our table which, irony of ironies, was situated next to Southern Eagle’s table. Overall, I didn’t see as many of my beer peeps at this dinner as I did the Brooklyn Brewmaster dinner, but there were still some friendly familiar faces. Mike and Paula were there in good stead along with Duncan and Lorraine MacRae who I had recently shared in some Terrapin good times with me at Vine & Barley. That was then though and this is now and now is Magic Hat brews and tasty Town Crier Pub grub. There was a new chef in the kitchen so I was curious to savor what personal flair he would bring to this brewmaster dinner, the second of which Town Crier has hosted. Amidst friendly faces familiar and new, I was ready and raring.

Like all good beer dinners, or any regular event for that matter, Town Crier took the positives and negatives from the first dinner and applied their learned experience to this one. First and foremost was reducing the number of courses down to five from the previous seven. Great food and brews notwithstanding, there is little going forward once that wall has been hit. The other hard lesson learned was to reserve seats with a credit card so that any absent RSVPs were beholden to their dinner commitment. This may seem a bit absurd to the self-absorbed, but I stand in firm support of this necessary precaution. A commitment given is a commitment honored not just by one but by all parties, including foremost a pre-commitment by the restaurant to offer their time, money, and resources based on your word of attendance. If you are not willing to commit and honor, then don’t, but you will be missing out on a good time.

Now where was I…

Besides reducing the courses to a comfortably consumable number and reserving seats with an honor-bound card payment, Town Crier brandished colorfully compact and visually appealing menus for all patrons to reference throughout the dinner. On the back of these dinner cards was a course-by-course mini survey and grading system for Town Crier to use as feedback for yet more brewmaster dinners. Yes! Genius and common sense all in one! Now spoiled, I can’t imagine beer dinners without them. After all, a burgundian’s work is never done.

Our gracious Magic Hat hosts that night were Josh and Lauren. Throughout the evening I was pleased to see them up and about schmoozing tables and sharing in good times between courses. One minor nitpick with this brewmaster dinner was an overall stiffness to both the beer and food presentations by Josh and the chef, George Cintron. Nervousness notwithstanding, I would have enjoyed learning more about the brewery, the beers, the meals, and the magic of enjoying them together then just the simply superficial. As much as the burgundian in me loves to sup and savor, so too does the geek in me relish any and all tidbits to tantalize my little grey cells.

Grey cell stimulation aside, Marc, Joe, Linda, and I small talked, beer talked, and food talked our way into the evening. JW was once more our ever-generous and handsomest host who left nary a glass empty. After all, an empty glass is a sad glass and no one likes a sad glass. I know I don’t. You? That’s what I thought. Another feature Marc and I made sure not to neglect this brewmaster dinner was documenting the food and beer porn in picture. Flash flashed in hungry purpose amidst jovial banter while beers flowed and food tantalized.

I had a suspicion that this particular brewmaster dinner would be an experience where the sum of said parts would be better than said parts on their own.
I was right.
Remember how I mentioned that quite a few Magic Hat brews had passed these lips to face the critique of my curious tastebuds? While none inspired a fevered flush of beervanic proportions, neither were they drain pours of insipid mediocrity. They were good. If proffered I would gladly drink them, but as of yet I haven’t come across any I would actively pursue. There is always an exception though and for me twas the Summer Odd Notion Ginger Ale. She was one fine tasting ginger beer and a REAL ginger beer at that. You know, with barley, water, hops, yeast, and the addition of ginger all contributing to her fermentable bounty. But I digress and righteously so. As for the other half of the equation, the food too was a matter of much lively discussion: really good though not great with far less oohs, aahs, moans and groans of porno-track scintillation this time around. Despite their individual short-comings, together they turned into a complimentary interplay of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.

Our evening got off to a successful start with introductions by Josh of Magic Hat and Town Crier’s chef-du-jour, George. And then it was onto our first dish, the Amuse Bouche, otherwise known in laymen’s terms as the appetizer.

Our amuse bouche was a citrus marinated ceviche the likes of which I hadn’t ever tasted and would happily taste over and over again. Snappily presented in martini glasses neither shaken nor stirred, I reveled in the unique additions of baby octopus (woohoo!), shrimp, scallops, and calamari. What I loved about this ceviche in particular was the unique choice of marinade they were cooked in. Oil based with herbs, a kiss of vinaigrette, and citrus oils (lemon particularly), she was sweet then zesty with herbs a gentle finish. Married with the tender seafood nibblies, they truly did melt in the mouth while the #9 provided playful sweetness up front with citrus bitterness in the back. If the ceviche had been a traditional citrus only base, the pairing would not have worked. Instead, Town Crier incorporated the flavor qualities of the #9 into the ceviche for a new twist on an old classic.

Our second course featured the scandalously controversial Wacko. Much like her namesake, this wacky ale features the addition of beet sugars. I am a fan of beets fresh, from a jar, in a can, or cooked to beetly perfection, but in a beer? The idea alone unfortunately taints many tasters’ minds to the undrinkable side of prejudice. I for one will taste anything once with an open mind and let my tastebuds do the rest. This resulted in a pleasantly enjoyable first date with Wacko just days before our second date at the brewmaster dinner. I looked forward to seeing how they would incorporate her light body dominated by fresh notes of pink grapefruit daintily dusted with sugar while lemon skins brought her to a crisp finish each and every quaff. Her partner in food? Enter the red beet infused Israeli couscous adorned with a pancetta wrapped sea prawn. Yum! The Israeli couscous was a special treat seeing as I have never savored such large couscous before. Cast aside your notions of the itsy-bitsy teensy-weensy for these are the size of pebbles with the ability to melt in your mouth as they did mine. The delicate flavors married well with the somewhat shocking pink-hued Wacko as I savored the sum thanks in large to the parts.

Yes, it’s going to be a trend. Accept it. Revel in it. Share it.

JW being the host with the mostest poured long and well. There was nary a parched throat at our table, indeed. By the way, he is my JW. You can’t have him. He’s all mine mine mine.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Course number trois was in my nowhere near humble beer geek foodie opinion the best. Like a climax, she consumed me mind and body before slowly settling into sated contentment from there on forward. I am talking of the tenderly breaded ginger marinated grouper fingers paired with the Summer Odd Notion Ginger Ale. A golden orange with ginger hues, she was also the only Magic Hat beer tasted which I felt could stand on her own and stand on her own she did. I’d be proud to have this beer in my fridge on a regular basis anytime, any day, anywhere. The grouper fingers were golden brown on the outside and moist on the inside with just the right amount of tastebud tantalizing flesh to make this seafood fanatic quite happy. For those who have never had grouper before, it is a meatier fish for a fuller-bodied tasting experience. Accompanied by sweet potato chips and a ginger remoulade to die for that was used far too sparingly, the Ginger Ale had met her mate in a sensual tryst of earth-shaking proportions. The sparse garnishing of ginger remoulade was the only slight against this dish, a slight corrected by JW who brought a couple extra dipping cups brimming with this gingery nectar of the gods. How good? Let’s just say that long after the grouper fingers were snarfed, Linda wasted no time in shooting back the remoulade remains before I could. You go, girl!

Another interesting feature of the Magic Hat brewmaster dinner was in how the courses were presented. With the exception of the ceviche amuse bouche, each course was served family style with one large plate presented in the middle of the table to which we all then helped ourselves. Small plates were provided in continual accompaniment for the divvying of portions. Different and fun, it added a cozy communal feeling to the evening.

Moving onto the second to last course, I found my appetite still raring and my belly still with room to spare. All tasty burgundian pleasures in moderation I say, even if that sounds counterintuitive to the heart and soul of burgundism:
“the enjoyment of good food and good drink for the hearty indulgement of the self”

As our magic chicken coq au beer arrived, it was a bit difficult to distinguish where the chicken ended, potato croquettes began, and the carrots, bacon, and pearl onions were lost somewhere in presentation. A very monotone dish, she wasn’t much to look at but looks are only a part of the overall equation. To my snarfing delight, the potato croquettes were amazing. Breaded and battered, they had plenty of time to soak in the succulent juices of chicken and coq au beer before relinquishing their tasty fate to my eager palate. Absolutely lipsmackingtastic as attributed to my grunts of satisfaction. The chicken on the other hand tasted like, well, chicken. I have nothing against chicken having clucked more than my fair share, but there was something missing which I can’t quite put my tastebuds on. Thankfully the croquettes and coq au beer more than compensated for the chicken so all was still good in my burgundian world. Paired with the Magic Hat IPA On tour, each balanced quaff was lightly hopped but still crisp enough to cleanse my palate for each subsequent bite. On the flip side, though the IPA On Tour served to cleanse my palate well, she needed a bolder, hoppier profile to stand tall with the spices and a maltier backbone to parry the rich sauce.

Rounding the bend towards our inevitable conclusion, the ginger remoulade grouper fingers continued to give me pause for salivation. I know a beery course is truly tastetastic when weeks later she is still cause for fond remembrance. But for now, let’s talk about the fifth and final course which proved the least impressive of all.

The idea of fire-roasted peaches bring to mind rich caramelized flavors parried with spice and all of it stewing in juicy sticky sweet peaches still warm to the taste. Add some phyllo for wrapping, a dollop of Odd Notion #10 ice cream, and a final glass of #9 with her peachy essence to the overall picture and nothing but flavortastic magic should await. Unfortunately, I was let down both by the dish and the pairing. Magic Hat #9 shone with the amuse bouche but was at odds with the fire-roasted peaches which tasted neither fire-roasted nor peachy. The phyllo was dry while the ice cream didn’t know where it belonged. A trooper and professional, I nonetheless sent back to the kitchen a plate devoid of its previous contents. Unlike a certain table which sent back plates of food virtually untouched, Marc, Joe, Linda, and I happily cleared all courses in respectfully empty fashion.

With the brewmaster dinner officially completed, my tablemates and dear friends bid farewell and goodnight while I hung around to chat with my peeps Mike and Paula, the latter of which was also enjoying her birthday in jolly form. In sneaky-good natured mischief, Dave and I conspired to surprise Paula with a special birthday dessert to celebrate a good life living and loved ones past. While relaxing the night away, I also met a nice couple new to beer dinners who thoroughly enjoyed themselves much to my delight. Hopefully I will see then at more, but until then…

We three eventually had to bid farewell and goodnight ourselves. To Josh, Lauren, JW, Dave, and the fine staff of Town Crier Pub, thanks for yet another memorable evening to cherish long into my years. With pjs and bed calling, I hit the open road for a leisurely cruise home to hearth and cat for the conclusion to an evening well spent. Good night and good sleep.

(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)


  1. love the way you have with words!! The pics really document the classiness of the dinner!

  2. it was definitely good, and fun.
    looking forward to the Southern Tier dinner.
    still jonesing for a Dogfish Head dinner ;D