McKenzie Brew House tries to be many things to many people with varied tastes in eating, drinking, and entertainment. Sports, karaoke, poker, dancing, jazz, brewpub, wine, restaurant, and social gathering spot are just a few ways in which McKenzie aims to serve their clientele.
Last Thursday evening at their original location in Chadds Ford, it was a full sit-down Belgian Beer Reserve Dinner <--click for the full menu. Owner Bill Mangan welcomed the crowd and in case there were any newcomers to good beer in attendance, he reminded all that beer is a wonderful compliment to food and that it has been too long since they last conducted a beer and food pairing dinner at the brewpub.
(Don Russell, aka Joe Sixpack; Ryan Michaels, head brewer; Gerard Olson, brewer)
This one was the first of what they expect to be more of the same...at both locations. Brewers Ryan Michaels and Gerard Olson worked with the kitchen to come up with a Belgian Farmhouse Beer Dinner menu. I described the food on the menu as good, solid (almost like comfort...though, certainly not boring) food that went well with the five different farmhouse ales. There wasn't anything too far "out there" that couldn't please the less adventurous palate. The beers, though, were anything but average and really rewarded everyone in the room looking for anything but your "typical" beer. In this way, this sort of beer dinner can be the perfect way to introduce newcomers to beer and its food pairing capabilities.
(Ryan Michaels describes the process of making his farmhouse ales)
Don Russell was an invited guest (as was I, I should add) and worked with Bill, Ryan, and Gerard to introduce the evening and each course. It was clear from the beginning that everyone was excited for this dinner. I was particularly excited as I was hoping that this dinner could be yet another vehicle to bring more light to the great work that is coming out of the brewhouses at McKenzie.
For those uninitiated or those continued naysayers, you'll see that in addition to the standard brews that are available year-round there are some very interesting and well-done beers coming out with the turning of every season. And, in the case of this dinner, that was exactly what was available.
When we arrived into the recently remodeled and unveiled lower level (called Metro), the room had been outfitted with eight tables, almost wedding reception-like. I joked that I half expected Don, Ryan, and Gerard to be announced down the staircase and into the room! Each place setting had five glasses awaiting their share of beer. All that was left for the servers was to bring the beer and food.
(5 cheeses, 1 very good beer...the Saison Brune)
The dinner proceeded at a real nice pace, ending at a little over two hours. The first course was an ample serving of five different cheeses to go with the just-funky-enough Saison Brune, certainly funkier than the saison brune I'd had the night prior at Sly Fox...some of which could be attributed to the close to a year that it spent in a Chaddsford Winery oak barrel. I can't imagine many better pairings with beer, particularly a funky farmhouse ale, than with cheese...in this case, the blue cheese (cow's milk-Ireland) and the manchego (sheep's milk-Spain). The blue cheese was just so creamy and so pleasingly tart that I could have left after this course without complaint.
(Better than your average house greens...much better)
But, alas, more food and beer was brought. Beet and goat cheese salad is one of my (Patty's too) favorite salads, one that often goes well in a beer dinner. I believe the last memorable one that I had was the Monk's Cantillon/de la Senne dinner in Philly back early last year ('09). Ah yes, here's the link...no goat cheese, though, in that one. Crap, now I'm not going to be able that Cantillon dinner out of my head.
(Don Russell describing the history of grisettes, unbeknownst to him, he had an accompanying visual over his shoulder)
While the salad was very enjoyable, I'm afraid there were too many strong flavors on the plate to allow the Grisette to shine. The red onions, the cheese, the vinaigrette dressing was all too much for my palate to pick up the delicate flavors in the low alcohol Grisette. A light moment here for me occurred when I snapped the picture of Don explaining the meaning of the word grisette while a buxom blonde appeared over his shoulder on the television.
That reminds me of a tip for establishments conducting beer dinners: try to reduce distractions...at least the obvious and direct distractions. I'd forgotten about this until just now, but all through the evening the presence of the numerous large-screen televisions that were turned on (though, silenced) and music from the speakers detracted from the guys as they were speaking to the room.
(See bass, eat bass, chase with gold medal-winning Saison Vautour, savor, repeat)
It's possible that the next course of sea bass and the award-winning (twice gold) Saison Vautour was my favorite of the evening. The fish was perfectly baked for me, meaning not overcooked and the beer was just as I hoped...nicely funked with the brettanomyces addition. The braised fennel on the side was a nice contrasting texture from the fish and was not as fennel-y as I might have imagined. The whole course made me seriously consider buying more Saison Vautour bottles to keep the one that I have at home company.
(roasted pork loin with Biere d'Hiver)
The next course was all about sweet and spice...and it was nice. It also reminded me that I still have a Biere d'Hiver from 2007 (maybe '08?) in the cooler at home. The other one that I had opened in the past was quite a gusher, so it will be interesting to see how this next one fares when I open it. It's filled with all sorts of wintry spice flavors that helped it play nice with the raisins and apricot glaze that accompanied the pork loin.
(ah, sweet dessert with an introduction to a wonderful new beer, the Cuvee McK)
Then, it was time for dessert. While the Cuvee McK was one of the most noteworthy beers of the evening and the cake was a nice and tasty layering of espresso and cream in a sponge cake, it unfortunately didn't work all that well together. I'm not sure if it was the espresso that was throwing me off, but I needed to scarf down and enjoy the cake by itself, rinse with water, then work on the beer by itself.
The beer, a year-long barrel-aged version of the Biere d'Hiver, was amazing. It must have picked up complexities being aged for almost a year, because I found it to be the most interestingly complex beer of the evening. So complex that my palate only has a handful of words for it. Mike, though, was in attendance too and wrote a whole bunch more descriptive words over at BeerAdvocate that you might wish to check out. This is a beer that's available in the bottle from either location...I believe somewhere around $13-$15 was mentioned as the price...well, well worth it I would say.
(A round of applause from the roughly 45 in attendance)
At $39, the dinner was one of the best deals I'd seen in a while in terms of beer dinner pricing. The beer alone was certainly worth more than half of the cost. The only thing that would make a beer dinner at McKenzie beer dinner better would be if the next one is held at the Malvern location...says a selfish Bryan :)
(A beer dinner, seen through a glass...no, he wasn't there)