Wednesday, February 16, 2011

BEERflections ~ Terrapin Beer Dinner @ Broken Barrel Tavern

It’s only natural that after two years of dispensing hundreds of thousands of tasty brews, platefuls of smoked paradise, and snifters of distilled barley delights, burgundism would finally bite the Barrel. Personally I go for the beer, the smoke, the Bar-B-Que, and the atmosphere. Kevin is the man and Broken Barrel is his first child, I say first because as a brand new dad, his cup truly runneth over.

Topping his Daddy-do list was the oft threatened and elusive creature known simply as the almighty beer dinner. One of the true tests of a restaurant’s mettle is the vaunted and oft times unexpectedly daunting beer dinner. Sounds easy right? Take beer – pour. Take food – serve. Add some hungry beer geeks and voila – burgundian bliss. Simple in concept but so much more. First you have the demand for and interest in a beer dinner and if not than it is up to you to create said demand and interest. Second, you have really good beers and the diversity of selection to boast the flavorful entreaties of beer. Third you have food so mind-blowingly tastetacular that your tastebuds just can’t handle it…but they somehow manage to anyway. Take all the above, add a dash of "je ne sais quoi" and BAM! You have the recipe for an evening of sensorial burgundian delights. That evening was Tuesday, January 25th and the location was Broken Barrel Tavern in Palm Bay, Florida.

Where there is beer I will be and there I was.

For their first beer dinner, Kevin and his posse pulled out all the stops. Space aplenty Broken Barrel has so where to hold the dinner? In their backroom of course. Going for the biergarten atmosphere, long tables housed beer dinner aficionados and newbies alike in jovial communion.

Indoor showers do not necessarily bring May flowers, especially on a dreary drizzly chilly evening, but with a glass of Terrapin Rye Pale Ale in hand and my Love by my side, all was well. As with many of the beer dinners I’ve been lucky enough to savor, five courses were matched by five beers. Mike Wallace of Terrapin Brewery introduced each beer in succession while none other than Kevin himself introduced each successive course. The first beer dinner is always a pleasurable endeavor of trial and error, and Broken Barrel’s was no exception as I shall digress in good will.

My two favorite course pairings were the first and the last. Our first course featured the 90 Shelling Ale Vintage 2009 paired with smoked quail kabobs dressed in cherry port sauce. The quail was quite the pleasant poultry first for me. Diminutive in stature and large in flavor, the meat peeled perfectly off her tiny bones with a snap of crunchy caramelized skin before melting in the mouth with surprising sweetness of marmalade and apple sauce. Her cherry port sauce doubled the savory sweet succulence before finishing with a tart tannic twang which melted seamlessly into the vintage 90 Shelling Ale featuring delightfully dominant tart tannins in the form of black grape and plum skins, leather, wood, and must which created sweet and gamey quail flavorvana. For those (and there are a lot of you) unfamiliar with the history of Scottish Ale ala Scotch Ale, this shilling is for you: Originally a designation of both malt content and quality of kegged (or casked) ale, the various strengths and complexities of Scotland’s everyday tipple came to be known by the shillings it would cost you to purchase it.

And from the first course I shall jump directly to the last course, also known as dessert. Before my eyes Pate A Choux filled with French vanilla crème and topped with a raspberry melba sauce was joined by her partner in flavor, the Big Daddy Vladdy Russian Imperial Stout. Yum and Yum! In my not so humble burgundian opinion, one of the easiest beer + food pairings is dessert. Ours was no exception as pastry puffs (pate a choux for you sofisticated types) melted into French vanilla crème melted into raspberry melba bliss. Coming in with a 1-2-3 punch of dark fruit meatiness, a lactic twang, and a long slow finish of vanilla bean dark chocolate decadence was the Big Daddy Vladdy. Each bite and each quaff was an orgy of flavors I willingly succumbed to and would do so over and over and over again.

By the time dessert came and conquered, both Laura and I basked in warm fuzzies inspired by a night savored together with good beer, good food, and good times. But before our forlorn farewell, let me reflect if I may and may I will, on the courses in-between.

  • The second course was a lovely salad of baby mixed greens, gorgonzola blue cheese (bring on the funk!), candied pecans, white peaches incognito, and a blueberry vinaigrette to inspire world peace. The beer? Sunray Wheat. The salad was a flavor texture sensation and the blueberry vinaigrette life affirming. The Sunray Wheat unfortunately not so much. I’ve had the Sunray a few times before and it didn’t and still doesn’t impress. The salad deserved a better bedfellow and the vinaigrette needs to be a regular staple at Broken Barrel.
  • Coming in third was Dad-worthy stone ground yellow grits melted into sharp cheddar cheese, blackened shrimp, and topped with andouille sausage. Zow! That’s spicy and cheesy! The Hop Karma Brown IPA was caramelized spicy nutty company while the grist was melty ooey gooey weighty homeliness…and therein lay the problem. Grits are not a light weight food stuff and only halfway through our dinner extravaganza, a death food wall summons.
  • But I persevered and pushed my way into the fourth course: smoked duck breast cradled in a crispy fried wonton bowl under a coating of Clementine and cranberry glaze served amidst Asian crunchy slaw. Her beer in crime was Terrapin’s Hoptaneous Combustion Smoked Imperial IPA. Maybe it’s personal prejudice but if your beery claim to fame is smoky and hoppy than your beery claim to fame better well be smoky and hoppy. Unfortunately the Hoptaneous Combustion Smoked Imperial IPA was neither of each in any aromatic tasteful manner. Of all the courses, this was the least impressive both in flavor and pairability. On the flipside, the wonton bowl of fried crunchy genius also needs to be a regular staple for the Broken Barrel has certainly not seen the last of the Beer Ambassador.

Far be it for me (because I am kind and I am fair) to judge first and ask questions later. Life is an adventure to be lived and live I did with my Lovely at the Broken Barrel Tavern Terrapin Beer Dinner. A tasteful work of life in progress, I look forward to savoring any and all future beer dinners Broken Barrel embarks on because, after all, a burgundian never rests.

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

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