Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sierra Nevada Beer Dinner at The Drafting Room: 11/11/09

In a recession, people still have to eat. I just was not so sure that with a $69.99 price tag that the dining room at The Drafting Room would be full. Apparently I was more wrong than I was sure. (I suppose that this is where I should disclose that my meal was 'on the house' as a guest of TDR. I'm not real good about these things, since I believe either naively or arrogantly that my writing usually speaks well enough for itself in this regard without a bunch of disclosures, qualifiers, and disclaimers...I should, I realize, probably get more disciplined about this.) Between 50-55 guests turned out to see Patrick Mullin---but not necessarily hear Patrick given that this was a slightly raucous crowd---eat from a nicely crafted menu, and drink some pretty decent Sierra Nevada beers. Not long after arriving early for the published 6pm start time, I slid myself into the bar area where a pre-dinner gathering of sorts had begun to take shape. I joined Patrick (did I introduce him yet? he's the regional sales rep for Sierra Nevada and TDR alum), Tom Gannon (eastern U.S. sales director and Patrick's boss), and a few others for a pre-pre-dinner beer. The draft menu, as you can see in the picture below, was dominated for the night and the next couple of days by Sierra, when in Exton. I made my way into the dining room and pulled up seats with Greg and Sue Ramirez (Exton Beverage), Tom (the same Sierra Tom from the last paragraph), and a delightful couple for a table of six. A brown saison made its way along with me and before long I was tasting a Mascarpone and Crispy Pancetta Stuffed Date. It made me wish that I hadn't dawdled for so long in the bar, or I may have snared more than one of these scrumptious bits (they were being "butlered"). It went just fine with the Brown Saison, but I still haven't found an instance where I'm head over heels, or vice versa, for this beer. There's something about the mix of dark, grainy malts and the Belgian yeast characteristics (in addition to flavors of juniper, star anise, brown coriander, and orange peel) that just hasn't tripped my trigger. Not sure if it's just me or, we're moving on... At beer dinners, I like to take the approach of saving enough of each course's beer to continue tasting throughout the remaining courses. This way, I get a chance to sample the beers at different temperatures as well as with different flavors. Most beer dinners that I've attended, a somewhat liberal free-pouring approach is applied and this will work well for my game plan. There have only been a couple where the pour size is so small and limited that this approach of mine didn't work out so well. In this case, the mildly wet-hopped (estate grown) brown ale called Edge of Darkness went wonderfully with the perfectly crafted mushrooms, tomatoes, goat cheese, and greens on the brioche (all some of my favorite things to appear at once a food plate). But, to me, this product from Beer Camp #12, of which TDR proprietor Howard Weintraub attended a few months back, went even better with the pork loin course which followed the sorbet that was served next. The tart and refreshing sorbet was just that and was perfect in and of and all by itself. The Trippel was something from the Chico Crew that I'd sworn I tasted before but became fairly well convinced that I had not. This is a slick, semi-sweet, and borderline high alcohol triple/trippel whose characteristics I occasionally find tasty and refreshing in the style...though, it must be drunk carefully at around 8% ABV. But, together, I didn't find the two parts of the course to mesh that well together; individually, they both stood out but together the flavors got sort of lost as the dominant flavors seemed to have difficulty standing out amongst each other. Eh well, that's fine because next up was a great stack of sliced pork loin with bacon and tender chunks of pumpkin. It was quite a flavorful and filling dish of meat that went real nicely with the 100% Estate Harvest IPA, sourced exclusively with brewery grown hops and grains (water and yeast too!). And while the bacon and pork loin went real nicely with the not-so-faint IPA, I thought the malty Edge of Darkness from earlier (by now at room temperature and still packing some of its noticeable hop flavor) went even better. Like I said, I could only figure this out because I kept at least a couple tastes of each beer around throughout the remainder of the dinner after they were served...give it a try sometime. Don't always rely on the beer dinner planners to figure out exactly what will work for your palate and preferences in terms beer and food pairings. Before we got into dessert, I'd caught wind ahead of time that there'd be a surprise. No, not the appearance of Joe Sixpack who wandered out from the city to check out this beer dinner. No, it was the baby brother of Life & Limb, the collaboration beer project between Dogfish Head in Delaware and Sierra Nevada on the other coast in Chico, CA. The big brother weighs in at over 10% ABV and this younger sibling, Limb & Life, is made from the second runnings of Life & Limb and brewed with honey and birch syrup (from the Calagione family farm in New England). After the story initially broke a few months ago of this collaboration project, I'll admit that I lost track of what was doing with it. Now, I'm glad to have been duly caught up and back in the know. This half of the project is a pretty easy-drinking beer with noticeable fresh hops and sweet honey flavors. Jay Brooks attended a debut dinner out in California and filed this report which contains some video of both Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada) and Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head) discussing the beers and the project. Then, oh then...we moved on to the grand-daddy of the dinner---the dessert course. What would you pick from Sierra Nevada's lineup to go with dinner's dessert course? I'll bet that more often than not, you'd pick the Bigfoot barleywine. This year's isn't quite ready yet, so it was 2008's installment that accompanied the nutty blintzes stuffed with a sweet blackberry jam and topped with crème anglaise. From the picture below, you'll probably notice how excited I was for this course. No, it wasn't Greg's paw that reached across to scrape at my plate. I fully cleaned off one of the blintzes before I remembered to take a picture. No worries about whether I had any problem finishing off the second one, Heather can confirm that answer for you. The verdict? This was a nicely-executed dinner on The Drafting Room's part. Not that I have much experience in the matter at TDR. In fact, the only other true, sit-down beer dinner that I've participated in at TDR was another Patrick Mullin/Sierra Nevada dinner. This one, in my opinion, was better in terms of food planning, beer lineup, and overall execution but I'm probably splitting just a few hairs. The beers, in this case, were a bit more rare than the "typical" Sierra Nevada lineup, especially given the one-time only, not to be found hardly anywhere else beers, like Edge of Darkness. This was a fun dinner as most are when you pair up a great brewery with great people at a great restaurant/venue. I'm not sure that The Drafting Room can continue to pull off strings of $70 beer dinners and pack the house each time, but then again I was wrong about this one. I would like to see, though, The Drafting Room doing more special events like this in between this price point and the numerous pay-as-you-go events that they routinely conduct. Follow-up: As of Wednesday, 11/18, you could still find the Brown Saison, Bigfoot, and Limb & Life on tap at The Drafting Room.

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