For those of you who get jealous easily or hate foods that are not Hot Dish, you may want to move on the next blog post now! My wife and I end up at most of the Happy Gnome beer dinners and have been doing this for years now. We have met some amazing friends by sitting at tables with strangers during these events. We have also really been able to get to know the staff at The Gnome well which really brings our enjoyment of the dinners to the next level. Over many dinners we have met a multitude of brewers, brewery owners, local reps and distributors: all with interesting stories and personalities. Where else can you talk one on one with non-local brewers from Goose Island, New Belgium and Alaskan?
This month was brought to us by an unlikely combination of breweries: Fulton (a small local brewery just 2 years old) and Great Lakes (a large regional brewery out of Cleveland, OH.) Apparently the local representative for GL (Brent) hooked the brewers up together and suggested that they do a collaboration, so we have him to thank for getting the ball rolling. Collaboration beers have been a recent trend and are a way to let brewers attempt new things and keep in touch with the craft beer community, especially for larger breweries that tend to focus on a core of flagship beers. Mikey and Brian from Fulton went out to Cleveland and brewed this beer with Luke from GL on their 7 barrel brewpub system. It is a baltic porter made with molasses and the GL proprietary lager yeast strain. The release of this beer was the cornerstone of the collaborative beer dinner at The Gnome and one could feel the excitement emanating from the Fulton guys.
The dinners all take place upstairs in the Firehouse Room of The Happy Gnome, up a steep staircase that probably weeds out those who shouldn't drive after one of these events. At the top of the stairs you are greeted by Ryan the new General Manager and directed to the beautiful auxiliary bar in the corner for your meet and greet beer. This time we were handed two pint glasses: a Fulton glass with Sweet Child Of Vine IPA; and a Great Lakes glass with Commodore Perry IPA. Double fisted IPA drinking from the get-go! It was interesting trying these two beers head to head. The GL beer is actually made with their previously mentioned yeast strain so is much more like a hoppy lager than a classic IPA, while the Fulton beer is more malty and balanced in a more English IPA style. Both were good, but I think the Fulton won my vote this time. In fact I liked this beer more than I remembered liking it in the past. Perhaps I'll be ordering it more in the future...especially if they start carrying it out in my neck of the woods out West. Whilst drinking from two glasses of beer we met up with our old friends Carol and Kevin, as well as Hassan and his brother-in-law. It is also nice to get see Molly and Paul, our regular beer dinner servers, and catch up on the last month or two...they are such great people, even while trying to pour beers, bus tables and serve food for 50 people!
Once we had settled into our seats, (always near the front so we can hear the talking once the diners start to get louder,) there was a talk about the breweries and discussion of the first few beers. Then came the first course: red snapper ceviche and a lightly dressed tuna tartare with watercress, dill cream and a honey-lemon vinaigrette. Unless it is sushi I'm not much of a fish fan, but the flavors on this plate were amazing and bright. The pairing with the malty and refreshing Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold was spot on, helping to clear the palate for the next bite.
The second course was a foie gras stuffed quail with bitter greens, root veggies and citrus jus. Quails are very tiny birds and difficult to eat, but these were mostly deboned with just the legs and wings to gnaw on if you wanted to. And of course foie is a freaking awesome thing to put in any dish. The Fulton Ringer pale ale was a nice pairing with the dish. The citrus flavored savory sauce on the bird really went well with the American citrus hopping in the beer.
The main course was a deconstructed rib eye steak of epic proportions served over creamy black lentils, house made boar bacon and smoky BBQ sauce. Wow was this a perfectly prepared steak! This was the best pairing of the night, showing off complementary roasty and malty flavors in the Collaboration baltic porter. I would go out of my way for this beer and am somewhat sad that there are only a few kegs of it around. They should have some at the Beer Dabbler this weekend and possibly some other places around town. I'm guessing that The Gnome has some left, but I'm not sure. I sincerely hope that the guys at Great Lakes will scale this recipe up and do a big batch next year!
For desert we were first served a roasted apple sorbet with a very flavorful walnut tuille (fancy cookie.) That was paired with one of the small batch beers Great Lakes Loch Erie, a very smooth and somewhat sweet Scotch ale. I'm always appreciative when breweries bring unusual or harder to find beers for these dinners. After our intermezzo sorbet we were served a brown sugar coffee cake with cinnamon ice cream and poached pears. Very subtle and tasty, but I was getting so full by this point that I didn't eat much of it. Remember that gargantuan steak portion? This desert was paired with my favorite beer of the night-- the Fulton War & Peace. This is a version of their Worthy Adversary Russian Imperial Stout that has been dry-beaned with dark roast Guatemalan coffee from local Peace Coffee at a rate of one pound per barrel for about 4 days. I find it interesting that they don't even grind the beans, just using the alcohol in the beer as a solvent to release the coffee flavor compounds. I had this beer at Firkin Fest a couple years ago and wasn't impressed with it at the time, but all that has changed now. This was apparently the last keg of the 2012 vintage around, but they will be releasing the 2013 batch soon. I'll certainly be in line to pick some up and would recommend that you do so as well! Perfectly balanced with a strong and smooth coffee flavor. The beer lost some of it's power when paired with the very sweet desert so I kept them separate for the duration.
I didn't quite know what to expect going into this dinner but once I found out about the collaboration/connection between the two breweries this all made more sense. The mix of beers served this evening had quite a bit of range and appealed to a large audience of beer drinkers. Getting to try three rare beers was a great treat as well. Executive Chef Scott Brink does some amazing things with food that I've only seen on Top Chef and rarely seen in action. I always enjoy the Happy Gnome beer dinners and if you haven't been to one yet, you owe it to yourself to make the trek out there. Next up is Lagunitas. They sell out fast though so like them on Facebook or sign up for the e-mails so you get word early. I'm very happy that Ryan has continued this tradition for The Gnome and really seems to be doing a great job at organizing things.