Monday, August 02, 2010

BEERflections ~ Southern Tier Brewmaster Dinner @ Town Crier Pub

It’s really pretty simple. When one takes lipsmackingtastic beers and pairs them with lipsmackingtastic food, the end result is nothing short of mind-blowing tastebud-tingling fanfreakingtastic beer+foodvana. Or in simpler terminology, burgundian bliss. Well, that bliss was for one wonderful evening the stuff of legends as myself, Marc, Joe, Linda, Mike, and Paula indulged all our senses shamelessly at the Southern Tier Brewmaster Dinner at the Town Crier Pub.

Southern Tier may hail out of Lakewood, New York while Town Crier calls Tradition of Stuart home but a better match could not have been. The third Brewmaster Dinner to date with the first being Brooklyn Brewery and the second Magic Hat, I had unwavering faith that this dinner would easily best the second while coming close to equaling if not topping the first. Remember, it really is pretty simple.

Beer dinner common sense may be simple but trying to battle a nasty bout of bronchitis coupled with a cute and furry new addition in the form of a rescue kitten along with working a three week straight grind and sure enough, I had the perfect setup for some serious hurting. Disease-shmease, not even the bubonic plague could have kept me from this epic beer dinner. Know it. I have been a fan of the Southern Tier portfolio of tastetacular beers almost as long as I have been a fan of the tastetacular culinary prowess of Town Crier and their chefs. Antibiotics would have been nice, but those are the privilege of the insured and benefits I have not so over the counter drugs it was. A lot of them. With nary a doubt, during the virtual month it took me to kill the bronchitis and find a forever home for the cute and furry new addition, I single-handedly boosted the drug industry’s profit margin by a few solid percentiles. That and the Puffs with aloe tissue industry saw golden numbers those long debilitating weeks, yes indeed.

So why the long grind?

My coworker and good friend, Sharon, was enjoying a much needed and deserved vacation visiting with her family in Yorkshire, England and soaking in the sights. During her absence, I volunteered to work the three weeks straight through. It’s not the first time I have worked a long stretch and pretty sure it won’t be the last. In life sometimes you just never know. Unfortunately, this particular long stretch of work and play and monies was compromised by my aforementioned illness. All’s well that ends well though, and I wouldn’t change a single moment of those hectic 504 hours of my life.

Worn, tired, and inundated in drugs and Puffs, lucky for me my boss is a hip chap and agreed to my closing the store an hour early for the Southern Tier Brewmaster Dinner, July 12th 2010. I live and work in Vero Beach. Town Crier Pub is further south from hearth and home, a good 30-40 minutes drive on I-95 depending on traffic. A Monday as always, the dinner extraordinaire started at 7pm. Great Spirits closes at 7pm. Since time-travelling DeLoreans are out of the picture, the only viable option was closing at 6pm which is exactly what I did with Toby’s blessing. Store closed with a brief notice of apologetic “unforeseen circumstances”, I booked it home to get Badge settled (the rescue kitten), take some more drugs, drink some more water, then hit the road to beer dinner destiny. Along the way I picked up gal-pal Paula and off we went.

Woes irrelevant, this was a day to savor the sublime marriage of beer and food. Though I may have slowly began my upswing to normal healthy burgundian living, I was far from perfect so it was a private blessing the featured Southern Tier beers had all previously passed these lips. Mental preparation goes a long way to sensorial enjoyment though, so consider this beer ambassador locked and loaded with eyes, ears, nose, and tongue fully at the ready.

Pulling in to the knell of 7pm exactly, I parked and off we trotted to the front entrance where the smiling faces of JW, Marc, Joe, Linda, and Eric awaited. Hugs and kisses later, we strolled in just as dinner was about to start. I do like to be early whenever possible but considering my slew of extenuating circumstances, I’ll settle for on time this round. Before joining my table of peeps, I made sure to share the love with Sean Murray of Southern Eagle Distributing and Dave Nardi, our Town Crier host with the most. Pleasantries exchanged, I was happy to note the always welcome addition of fellow pirate alumni and friend, John Colontrelle. Keeping his table company was his younger brother Danny, Uncle Dennis, and friend Brian. Seated by the main entrance were my buds Eric, Randall, and Allyson. Drink well my peeps and peepettes; drink well, eat well, and live well.

Finally seated with my tablemates minus two, sad but true, JW set about prepping everyone for a tantalizing evening of scintillating proportions. With skillful aplomb and genuine congeniality he accomplished all including embarrassing your blushing beer ambassador with a very public thank you of gratitude and appreciation. Humbled and honored, it is my pleasure always and truly.

Being the 3rd Brewmaster Dinner, I was nonplussed to see a comfortable rhythm emerge as all things do with practice making for perfection. It is in the living, learning, and applying of life which Dave, JW, Chef George, and staff have applied with ample aplomb. Even some of the seasoned beer dinner patrons have found a pleasant rhythm at these lovely social affairs, our table being one such example. And social affair is exactly what these brewmaster dinners are. What better way to get out, have some fun, try something new and different, meet interesting people, and all for a ridiculously reasonable price, too. Nothing comes to mind and that’s quite alright.

Seated comfortably with my bag of drugs and Puffs safely stored in one of the two empty seats next to mine, it was with thirsty eyes I watched the first of five Southern Tier beers make their way around with the first of five decadent courses following close behind. Rubbing hands together in giggling glee, I took in the luminous glow of the 422 Pale Wheat Ale as she slipped into my glass under the cover of sensual fluff. Delight bubbled over as Sean started the evening with tantalizing tidbits regarding the first beer which was paired with the amuse-bouche of hot and spicy consommé presented in the always classic martini glass. Once more our chef du jour was George Citron who with this brewmaster dinner was allowed absolute creative freedom and each dish excelled because of it.

But first a disclaimer.

For all the pomp and circumstance a classy beer dinner proffers, it should also be ripe with amiable charm and genuine fun. It is beer after all, not peace negotiations or the second coming. That being said though, there is still a level of common courtesy and etiquette that should be extended by the patrons to both their hosts and their fellow diners. When your gracious host is speaking please keep those little flappers known as lips shut and those adorable organs known as ears open. This is not a topic to debate or susceptible to exceptions. This is truth. This is courtesy, manners, respect, and consideration…to name a few. On the flip-side, it is up to the host to project his/her voice so that all those eagerly attuned adorable ears can catch each tantalizing morsel of information while those little flappers remain shut, to be opened only after the host has bowed out and hungry appreciation resumes. While George and Sean could have used more oomph in their decibels, there were also those who should have utilized the art of silence. It is golden, after all.

Ok. Diatribe disguised as a disclaimer now over, let us move onto the mouthwatering sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of our night of pleasures tangible.

As previously mentioned, our first course was the amuse-bouche which is fancy terminology for a single portion appetizer ala starter. Her partner in taste was the 422 Pale Wheat Ale, a gentle American-style wheat beer featuring a softly sweet palate accented with herbal notes and sweet rolls. She was the perfect mate to the hot and spicy consommé, a reduction whose creation process still boggles the mind. I shall digress to the powers of Wikipedia for further enlightenment: a type of clear soup derived from a richly flavored stock or bouillon of sorts which is clarified through an intense fining process involving egg protein and hours of patient simmer. Renowned in the culinary world as one of the hardest dishes to prepare, a well-made consommé is an indisputable mark of absolute expertise. Having tasted George’s spicetastic consommé, I can say in absolute confidence he deserves the highest culinary regard. Crystal clear with the natural hue of broth, little cubes of red and green peppers rested in the cusp of my martini glass, each one a burst of tastebud tingling flavors. Served appropriately lukewarm to highlight the spice while the sweetly herbaceous 422 whispered sweet nothings, we were off to a grand start.

Personally I am not one for spicy foods. Through fine-tuning my most valuable tasting instrument, the tongue, my sensitivity to spicy heat has been indubitably heightened. As a result, there are few hot and spicy dishes which I can both tolerate and enjoy. George’s consommé was just right with flavor aplenty resulting in a masterpiece I would gladly enjoy over and over again.

Amuse-bouche came, saw, and conquered. As such it was onto our second course featuring the IPA (Iso-Alpha Experience) along with three delectably dainty lobster-stuffed shells. I’m a sucker for seafood so Town Crier had me at lobster along with my tablemates and other seafood minded patrons whose murmurs of pleasurable delight filled the air. Served in a mini casserole dish, the three shells were stuffed with fresh lobster finely chopped though still sporting a few chunks here and there while herbs, ricotta cheese, and the best creamed spinach puree ever kept the lobster company in her shell-struck shelter. Spicy arrabiata (a Roman sauce of garlic, tomatoes, and red chili cooked in olive oil – Wikipedia) made a tasty showing atop, under, and around the shells for yet another mind-blowing orgy of food and beer. Oh yes, let us not forget the beer. The IPA from Southern Tier is a bright and hoppy India pale ale ripe with freshly dew-dropped blades of grass, a kiss of citrus rind and pith, and a solid undercurrent of crunchy bread crust and melba. Her dry finish cleanses the palate for each ooey-gooey morsel of lobster, cheese, creamy spinach, and arrabiata making sweet love to my tastebuds. Yum and yum!

At this point in my brewmaster dinner musings, I would like to address another minor complaint of mine. It may be minor, but it has been a noticeable trend in the last two dinners. That my friends would be the pace at which these burgundian extravaganzas have been carried out. The first dinner was too big, but it also covered the courses and the beers in a slower more palatable pace. All the better to savor the flavor, my dears. Both the Magic Hat and recently passed Southern Tier dinner felt rushed. I enjoy a bit more time spent in the holy matrimony of beer and food. Something as simple as an extra 10 minutes (or there about) with each course would go a long way in a relatively short amount of time to enhancing the enjoyment of each course while nurturing the overall relaxed atmosphere of an evening indulged. Food and beer for thought.

Lobster-stuffed shells snarfed and IPA supped, JW once more proved he is just wonderful, showering our table with his magical touch while out strode our third course and our third beer. Enter Phin & Matt’s Extraordinary Ale and a personal guilty pleasure thanks to many a family dinner: the Cornish game hen. Silverware absolutely did not apply to this dish as we all drooled in awesome wonder before digging into her succulent flesh marinated in love, lime, and Thai chilies roasted and served over rice infused with more love, lime, and cilantro and all garnished with a sweet chipotle drizzle. By now it is abundantly clear George likes his spice and if he continues to have his way with me, so will I. Once more an amazing balance of just enough heat matched with spice, flavor, and savory sweet. The beer? An interesting inbetween considering the previous IPA and the upcoming Unearthly IPA, the gentle spice of her hops stood up to the Thai chilies and chipotle while her malty body helped soothe these tastebuds just in time for the next bite.

Just as the spicy heat of the consommé never outstayed her welcome, neither did she with the third dish. Instead, she chose to gently usher me into the fourth and final course before the dessert to die for. In fact, I want the dessert to die for both on my death bed as I utter one last breath and in my coffin as I return to the earth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Four courses in, my table is still in high spirits and with the exception of one table which doesn’t seem to understand the really simple respect of silence when our hosts are speaking, there was nary a hitch or hindrance. I could see by way of John’s table that all were in high spirits, and though Eric’s table was far removed, ample smiles were glimpsed and laughter overheard. Gracious host with the most, Dave made sure to visit at least a couple times during the evening’s festivities. Sean even found time to stop by and share in the good vibrations. Times like these help remind me just how truly lucky and blessed in life I am and I owe it all to good beer.

Slowly winding down though far from full, our fourth and last course arrived to cheerful anticipation. As previously mentioned, our beer du jour was the Unearthly IPA, a huge sticky sappy hoppy malty India pale ale of epically deceitful proportions (she is not for the thin of blood) while the dish du jour was lamb au poivre. I must say, thanks to Town Crier Pub and their Brewmaster Dinners, I have learned more culinary terminology in just this year than ever in my whole life including my four years of culinary club. Thanks bunches! I am a better burgundian because of it. Now where was I… Oh yes! The lamb au poivre was not just any old bah-bah black sheep. Oh no, she was New Zealand rack of lamb lavished in spices and cracked peppercorns. Her dressing was a divine reduction of blackberry wine which featured prominently on the rack of lamb. Her plate-mates were spinach and roasted tomato polenta cake which was the only unextraordinary dinner feature. Personally never having tasted polenta before, I have no basis for comparison but according to my table of polenta aficionados, it lacked Shazam. In fact, it lacked much of anything significantly flavortastic, but the pinkly moist lamb racks more than made up for that particular lackluster feature. Looking back, we all still had it really good, superfantastic in fact.

Dessert featured last and shone the greatest. Having been disappointed by the Magic Hat dessert, I was hoping for an earth-shaking redemption which I got and then some. What I experienced in those slowly savored moments of eye-rolling mouth-molesting orgasmic indulgence was the Dark Chocolate Sabayon.
Or as it should be called: food porn.
One taste and I was flushed, flustered, and fantastic all at the same time. Looking through heavy lidded eyes at my peeps, so too were they. A slow moan of pleasure rumbled with each subsequent taste of sexual dark chocolate sabayon atop beer macerated berries and figs under a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
Naughty and nice, may I have another please and thank you.
Her bed-mate was Iniquity, a decadent tryst of rich dark chocolates, fudge, espresso, subtle forestry hops, and darkly earthen designs resulting in a fanfreakingtastic indulgence of all senses.
With the last spoonful shamelessly licked clean, the fingers were utilized to gather every last bit of tastiness. There shall be no dark chocolate sabayon left behind on my watch. You can count on it. There were six of us at my table, yours beerly included, and the martini glasses she rode in on rode back clean as crystal thanks to our diligent efforts.

Lips smacking in sated satisfaction, we lingered for a while before wandering out into the warm night air. While I did not utilize the opinion cards previously due to shameful absentmindedness, this time I used them to their full advantage. After all, it is to everyone’s benefit to seek and offer fair feedback and I want many more brewmaster dinners to look forward to. In the meantime, I will continue to do what I do best and enjoy the most: share my love for good beers, good food, and the beauty of enjoying both in tandem.

Not wanting to push my luck in regards to my still recovering body of ills and drugs, I bid farewell to my lingering peeps before cruising home to bed, more drugs, and hopefully a decent night’s sleep. While truly tasteful beers and food are not a medically approved cure for one’s ill health, I can say that for those few hours of burgundian bliss, all was well and bright in these life and times of mine.

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

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