(The empty dining room, with a quiet brew house as an appropriate backdrop, awaits close to 40 beer dinner guests)
Quail and its eggs must come cheap these days. For the fourth beer dinner in the past three weeks, quail has been featured on a plate in front of me. For three of these dinners, it was quail egg(s) sliced open and presented a few different ways as an opening course.
But, no worries, my little bit of research says that these small wonders have a relatively decent pouch of nutrition that they pack and only "good" cholesterol, none of the "bad"....or, so they say.
(A brown ale and Rogue smoked blue cheese got things off to a smooth and tasty start)
(Gorgonzola and quail egg salad and its strong flavors went suitably with a dry-hopped German Pilsner)
(Iron Hill-North Wales brewer, Vince Desrosiers, and Sous Chef Tim Andrews)
Last night, I was a dinner guest of the Iron Hill North Wales location where Vince Desrosiers heads up the brew house. He formerly worked with Bob Barrar in Media; so, being the likable guy that he is, it wasn't surprising to see some current and former staff from Media show up in support of Vince and the North Wales crew. Former head beer guy at North Wales, Larry Horwitz (now at West Chester), and Paul Rutherford (Lancaster) were also in attendance. Quite a tight family, for sure. (Makes me wonder why I don't have people pictures of our table, maybe I'll link to one later over at Facebook where a lot of those sort of things seem to turn up.)
I've been to a few Iron Hill beer dinners-slash-events and in keeping with the company standard, this one was excellent on most points as I expected going into the evening. Of course, the rush hour drive--not so excellent--is another story.
In the spirit of keeping things short here and getting something out to you quickly--and sometimes, to be honest, I wonder how much beer dinner detail is really useful and meaningful to a majority of you--I'm going to hit on the main takeaways, followed by the complete menu.
In a week where the acquisition news of brewpub "chains" Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch stole the headlines, our locally-based Iron Hill not-quite-a-chain of unique brew houses and kitchens churned out two high quality beer dinners on the same night...one with brewer Bob Barrar in Media and the one I attended in North Wales.
(Candle, barley...must be a beer dinner)
(The Scallop and Pancetta plate paired with the Oktoberfest brought a contented silence over the room)
(Squab, gnocchi, and chanterelles with an eye toward presentation)
To fill the time while awaiting the first course, we were treated to very nice brown ale that went with a standard bleu cheese from Rogue (the creamery, not the brewery). Then, any memories of the nicely dry-hopped German Pilsner and Gorgonzola/quail egg salad quickly gave way to the best food and beer pairing of the evening, that of the Oktoberfest and Scallops/Pancetta. The combination of flavors on the plate--sweet, salty, savory (umami)--worked magic on the palate and went very nicely with malty Oktoberfest. But, then...then, a couple of ounces of Vince's sorachi tripel was placed in front of me and the pairing went to the next level with hints of lemon being added to the mix. I missed the exact brand name of this beer, but it was still available on tap at the bar as of last night.
(Veal cheeks and Wee Heavy were way more than a wee awesome together)
(Vince tapping the cask of Coffee-infused Russian Imperial Stout)
I believe I'll stick with my initial assessment of the second course being the best pairing of the dinner, but during the ride home I couldn't stop thinking about the veal cheeks and the Wee Heavy. The veal had been cooking for close to 12 hours resulting in an ever-so-tender plate of meat paired with a delightfully not-too-peaty Wee Heavy. Vince mentioned the cherrywood smoking of the malt and how this beer has continued to change and improve since it was first served. Make a note: meat dish with slightly smoky, malty beer--perfection.
(The dessert course of mascarpone custard and Coffee Russian Imperial Stout served from the cask sent people home on a high note)
(Vince had an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor, too. He sat accompanied by, in the back of the picture, Tim and Steph Weber)
Chefs seem to have discovered that the dessert course is such an obvious place for beer to shine in beer dinners. With Executive Chef David Foster and Sous Chef Tim Andrews, this dinner was no exception. While at first glance I might have expected a smooth and slightly bitter barleywine to accompany the mascarpone custard, it was instead a coffee stout that brought the bitterness to the table. It was served cask-conditioned and with its low carbonation (but, just enough, in my opinion) the flavors were able to shine brighter than usual. The keg was not finished, so there's a chance if you find yourself along route 309 today or tonight, that you find it sitting atop the bar waiting for you to help finish it. While I'm not sure the pairing came off exactly as I might have hoped, both the custard and beer individually were wonderful finishing touches to just-my-typical-Tuesday-night-dinner.
(A curtain call for the kitchen staff)
(Vince worked the crowd like a pro)
Baby Arugula and Fennel Salad
gorgonzola, candied walnuts, hard boiled quail egg, sweet onions and honey roasted beet vinaigrette
Paired with German Pilsner2nd Course
Pan Seared Diver Scallops
sweet carrot puree, pancetta, calimyrna fig-pistachio relish and port wine reduction
Paired with Oktoberfest3rd Course
Tea Smoked Breast of Squab
roasted pumpkin gnocchi, seasonal mushrooms, apple cider buerre blanc and red currant sauce
Paired with Cannibal4th Course
Beer Braised Veal Cheeks
cauliflower puree, sautéed chard, smoked cioppolini onion and natural jus
Paired with Smoked Malt Wee Heavy5th Course
In puff pastry with Russian Imperial Stout-molasses reduction and candied fennel
Paired with Cask Russian Imperial Stout aged with coffee beans