Showing posts with label beerbistro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beerbistro. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pre-gaming Philly Beer Week with Russian River, Sierra Nevada, Brian Morin, and Monk's Café

Pre-gaming Philly Beer Week with Russian River, Sierra Nevada, Brian Morin, and Monk's Café

With so much eating, drinking, and writing on the horizon for the next two weeks, it's hard to imagine wanting to bite off (sorry) another assignment just days after returning from Belgium and days before embarking on the wild journey that will be Philly Beer Week #5.

But when a Cilurzo (Russian River), a Grossman (Sierra Nevada), and a Morin (beerbistro) conspire with a one Mr. Tom Peters at Monk's Café for a memorable beer dinner, well, it's just tough to say no.

There are not enough superlatives to describe last night's dinner at Monk's Café in Philadelphia. Russian River and Sierra Nevada Brewing Companies from northern California sent their top honchos in advance of Philly Beer Week to put on a dinner show of epic proportions. They each brought their wives as well.

To match the beer in the kitchen, Monk's brought in Brian Morin, a veteran of many Monk's Café dinners, from Toronto's famed beerbistro.

Let's get the menu out of the way up front this time.

Sierra Nevada Pilsner
~ served with an Amuse Bouche of toast point with local goat cheese and breakfast radish

Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux
~ served with Smoked Black Cod with Brux crème fraîche and green papaya slaw

Russian River Row 2/Hill 56-The Story of Simcoe
~ served with Deckle Steak with local mushroom ragout and garlic scapes

Russian River/Sierra Nevada CBC Symposium Sour Brown
~ served with Foraged Salad with symposium vinaigrette

Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest
~ served with Pork Belly with grilled radicchio and asparagus

Russian River Defenestration
~ served with Lobster & Leek Ravioli

Russian River Supplication
~ served with Duck Breast with local, wild sour cherries

Sierra Nevada/Russian River ExPortation
~ served with a cheese plate of Monte Enebro (a Spanish goat's milk cheese) and Wilde Weide (an organic Dutch raw cow's milk cheese) and served with ExPortation honey

Sierra Nevada Knock on Wood
~ served with Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with espresso crème brûlée

Grossman and Cilurzo both led off the evening with comments regarding their deep love and appreciation for Philadelphia and its beer scene. They aren't sticking around for Philly Beer Week this time around, but when their friend, Peters, wants to include their beer in a dinner a few days prior to PBW, they made sure to clear their calendars.

The evening turned out to be quite the who's-who of beer in Philadelphia. It seemed as if half the crowd (both the front and back rooms, including barstools, were seated for this dinner) was a recognizable face from brewers to distributors to reps. It was a great chance to catch up with everyone, particularly just prior to the impending PBW madness.

Philly's own Beer Lass, and Allagash representative, Suzanne Woods tweeted something to the effect of "am I the only person not at tonight's dinner at Monk's?"

Some combination of Cilurzo, Grossman, and Peters introduced almost every pairing of the extravagant 9-course meal. The most interesting stories on the beer side of the table involved the Russian River Row 2/Hill 56 Simcoe as Cilurzo described the brewery's deepening ties to the hop farmers (in this case those that source his Simcoe hops from one of the three Yakima Valley farms that source all of the world's Simcoe), the Symposium Brown, and of course the collaborative Brux.

Cilurzo talked a bit about how the Symposium Brown came together for the 2011 Craft Brewers Conference with Ken Grossman (yeast), Brian (recipe), Fritz Maytag (barrels), and himself ("shepherd") each playing their respective role in crafting this fine sour beer with no fruit involved.

The new Brux is one of the more talked-about beers of 2012 if, as Grossman explained, for no other reason than getting the "old man (his father, Ken) to relent after 32 years of trying to keep Brettanomyces out of the brewery".

This was the first commercial pouring of the beer outside the northern California brewery walls.

Originally code-named Global Warming, this beer was born in Brian (and Gina) Grossman's kitchen, for father's fear at the time of introducing a wild yeast into the brewery operations. For my palate, the beer is a refreshing sour, not overly bracing, and displays lemon citrus flavors. The funk registers fairly low and it should be a beer that is interesting to follow as it ages in the bottle. It will be distributed through the Sierra Nevada network, though availability is promised to be extremely thin even in the Philadelphia market.

As for the food, the success of the kitchen on this particular night seemed to grow upon itself course after course. Morin began with a pleasing amuse bouche of radishes and goat cheese and moved into a delectable hunk of smoked, black cod. As well done as these first two bites were, the execution of some of the following courses — namely the steak, ravioli, duck, and chocolate tart — were delivered as perfectly as the words on the menu suggested they would be. There's nothing more disappointing than having high hopes after initially reading a menu be crushed when the fork hits the mouth. Not on this night.

How about those pairings, right? Morin had the chance to sit down with the beers ahead of time in Toronto to give himself the best chance for success in building the menu. In this guy's book, he scored the most points with the Brux and papaya slaw under the black cod, the Simcoe beer with the mushroom ragout on the steak plate, the Supplication and duck breasts with sour cherries, and (you could've guessed) the Knock on Wood and chocolate tart.

Special thanks to dining companion, Keith, for reminding me of Supplication and duck playing nicely together over five years ago at Monk's. Strong memory, this one has!

The Knock on Wood, since I haven't described it until this point (and hadn't even heard of such a beer until the dinner), is basically SN's Hellraiser beer, a chipotle/chocolate stout aged for 16 months in Heaven Hill barrels. Any hint of pepper had basically yielded to the barrel-aging effects and scored one last winning note on a menu full of tasty treats.

Yet, after all the superlatives, no amount of insults is greater than the ones that I'm boomeranging at myself this morning for one of the worst displays of inferior, offensive, and amateur pictures from the dinner. I suppose it proves that you can give a big boy a big camera, but that it guarantees nothing. To be fair, I was up for Beer Writer of the Year, not photographer. Still, I've included a few of the pictures that I snapped from the dinner, even (regrettfully) the well-composed one of Grossman, Peters, Cilurzo, and Morin. The only way I could make it halfway presentable for you was to turn it to black-and-white.

It's a crowded world of beer events around Philadelphia. Always has been and has only continued get more so over the years. Still, if you've not treated yourself to a special beer dinner at Monk's Café, then you've not yet experienced some of the best that the Philadelphia beer scene has to offer.

Philly Beer Week. It's on.

(from left: Brian Grossman-Sierra Nevada; Tom Peter's-Monk's Café; Vinnie Cilurzo-Russian River; Brian Morin-beerbistro)

(Chef Brian Morin, post-dinner, looking like he barely broke a sweat)

(the Monk's-ville Nine - what a lineup)

(Sierra Nevada Pilsner and Amuse Bouche)

(Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux and Smoked Black Cod)

(Russian River Row 2/Hill 56 Simcoe and Deckle Steak)

(Russian River Defenestration and Lobster & Leek Ravioli)

(Russian River Supplication and Duck Breast)

(Sierra Nevada/Russian River ExPortation and the cheese plate)

(Sierra Nevada Knock on Wood and Chocolate Tart)

Friday, July 08, 2011

A little drive to Toronto

Did I tell you the one about how back in May Patty and I drove to Toronto? Probably not to many of you, and definitely not on these "pages".

See, it was a mostly personal trip, not so much a Brew Lounge trip. Though, where Beaumont and Bryan are involved, there are sure to be many fine brews. And for new discoveries along the way, I'd be derelict in my duties if I did not report back to you some new recommendations.

It may not be the timeliest of postings, but daggumit it's gonna be posted. Come to think of it, Beaumont is involved in the most delinquent Brew Lounge posting of all-time, last October's Rhine River cruise through Europe.

We drove north with in-person birthday wishes and a couple of growlers and six-packs from Sly Fox in tow for Steve. If I'm gonna miss the Bock Festival at Sly Fox, then Bock must travel shotgun. Plus, when they heard where I was headed, they insisted I take some extra with me.

This is just a short posting of some of the places we stopped along the way. Not full reviews, mind you, rather brief mentions of places you may wish to check out when traveling through New York State or north of the border in Toronto.

Just when you do the border-crossing thing, don't ask the crossing guard if he really does know Steve Beaumont. Seriously. Long story. A funny and long story. Don't ask, unless you buy me a beer and ask nicely.

Cole's in Buffalo, NY — An ad in the Ale Street News (I'm pretty sure that's where the idea came from) took us to this nice Irish-style spot north of downtown just off the Buffalo State College campus. It's been around since 1934 and boasts a lot of taps and a quality bottle menu to boot. Lamb burger and an IPA (called 'The Kind') from nearby 3 Heads Brewing in Rochester, NY satisfied me for the last leg of our drive to Toronto.

The Burger Bar in Toronto, ON - We were barely in town an hour and we were whisked away to The Burger Bar in the city's Kensington Market neighborhood near the University. My how this neighborhood has developed since we were last there nearly 10 years ago.

Steve introduced us to owner Brock Shepherd who was in the process of launching his own brewery, Kensington Brewing Company. At the time (don't know if status has changed since then), his Augusta Ale and Extra Hoppy were being contract-brewed somewhere outside of the city but with plans, if I recall correctly (everything from this trip is going off memory--fortunately, mine's usually pretty solid) to eventually set up shop in the back of the restaurant.

Beers were solid, as were the small bites that we enjoyed pre-dinner, and are recommended for your keen beer goggles to seek out when in Toronto. Not sure how wide the distribution may ever become, so simply head to The Burger Bar instead of traipsing around town hoping to find it. Plus, if the restaurant isn't to your liking, there are plenty of other options up and down Augusta Avenue.

Bar Volo in Toronto, ON - Before heading off to dinner, we made a stop around the corner, or around the University, from The Burger Bar. Bar Volo appears to be making waves in downtown Toronto. Big waves. Owner Ralph Morana is serving up some of the most interesting beers from eastern Canada, particularly (of course, hopefully) Ontario.

On this particular early Friday evening in mid-Spring, there was a healthy crossover of happy hour-goers as well as early birds getting a start on the evening. Morana made sure that we continued our progressive dinner across town with a plate of appetizing snacks and some beers that he found interesting, including some of his own from his 1-bbl system in the back. Yes, that's right. Another bar owner with a license to brew and sell on-premise.

His brewing endeavor goes by the name House Ales. Morana often gets together with local professional and home brewers to create highly sought-after beers that are licensed for on-premise consumption.

They also take up a spot on the Ontario Cask Ale Trail, something I found very intriguing as Morana serves many of his house-made beer in this fashion, cask-conditioned that is. Morana played quite the gracious host and makes Bar Volo an automatic stop during our next visit to Toronto.

beerbistro in Toronto, ON - At this point of the evening, it was time for a proper sitdown dinner. Beaumont is a minority partner in beerbistro and I've only eaten of Chef/Owner Brian Morin's creations at Monk's Café in Philly. So it became a near-given that we drop in for our dinner and last stop of the night. It was certainly the most upscale environment of the evening of our three stops and, given its location, was quite obvious that we were as "downtown" as we'd been all day/night. The Financial District, Theater District, and all things tourist dominate the areas adjacent to beerbistro.

With a bottle of Cantillon St. Lamvinus to get things started, we were off to quite a fine dinner. Morin stopped by to chat for a bit and then let us attack our plates of food from the seasonally-changed dinner menu. The beer menu is smartly organized into groupings that help simplify (or complicate, depending upon your perspective, I suppose) the selection process from a large beer list. Categories include: Appetizing, Bold, Contemplative, Crisp, Fruity, Quenching, Robust, Satisfying, Smoky, Sociable, Soothing, Spicy, Unpredictable, and even recommended "Beer for (both red and white) Wine Lovers".

Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse, NY - Syracuse was almost exactly half way along the drive home for us. It was too late to stop in Ithaca, so we figured to stop in at Blue Tusk in Syracuse in its Armory Square neighborhood to grab some barbecue and great beers.

But, alas, they are closed on Sundays so we walked across the street to Empire Brewing Company. They're big on sustainability and what-not and brew up a wide spectrum of flavors and aromas to please a wide swatch of patrons.

We know Empire from Ommegang's annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown. Last year, the brewery's White Aphro (Belgian Wit) and Sub-Terranian (Belgian Farmhouse/Tripel) impressed. The service on this particular Sunday was prompt, friendly, and educated (in the ways of beer). We got what we needed in the form of some burgers and beers before heading out for the second four-hour leg of journey.

All in a weekend's work play for The Brew Lounge.