Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Butcher & The Boar Founder's Beer Dinner 2013

Having recently blogged about Butcher & The Boar, I had not planned on returning them to print for a while.  However, after their beer dinner last night, I feel obligated to spread the gospel of the amazing food and Founders beer we experienced.  My wife and I have been to a LOT of beer dinners, and only one in all that time was not great.  But sometimes a dinner just "clicks" and everything works synergistically to elevate the event to become more than its component parts should justify.  The first Butcher & The Boar beer dinner was one such event.

Our story begins about two months ago at the Great Lakes/Fulton Happy Gnome Beer Dinner.  At that amazing dinner we found ourselves sitting at table with the Owner/Chef and the Ciccerone from Butcher & The Boar, who were doing "research" on how to run their own beer dinner.  At that time Sj got the inside scoop about when the dinner was supposed to take place, but official word on the event was slow to come.  Sj did a great job of Facebook-stalking the restaurant until they quietly announced the dinner--getting us in right away.  This was a very small dinner, limited to about 25 people and filled up incredibly fast, so I feel fortunate to have been able to attend.  Even getting regular seating at the restaurant can be a challenge, and since Chef Jack Riebel has been nominated for a James Beard Award this year, that can only get more difficult.  A good problem to have for a fairly young restaurant!

We arrived at the restaurant after an epic hour of crawling along in rush-hour traffic from Waconia to Minneapolis.  Pulling up into the valet parking lot, one can see the beautiful Adam Turman mural along the entire wall of the restaurant.  We then were directed to a small and slightly sketchy two-person elevator to drop us into the newly opened basement crypts for the inaugural beer dinner.  Off to the left, we entered a small and cozy basement bar, filled with rich wood paneling and comfortable leather chairs.  The bar itself fits that theme, also of shiny wood with a treated leather top.  We were greeted by Ben, the Ciccerone (beer sommelier) for the restaurant, who poured us large glasses of the not-yet-released-in-Minnesota All Day IPA.  The beer is a great sessionable hoppy ale that was created mainly because the owners of the brewery wanted to be able to drink their own beers at home and not fall asleep before their children did. Upon the bar was a sausage and cheese platter as well as turkey liver pate to tide us over until the main event.  If they added a small gas fireplace to the room, I would probably never want to leave. 

More and more people arrived, including our friends Randy and Andrea whom we have met through Happy Gnome and Town Hall beer dinners.  Most of the diners were involved in the beer industry, so it was cool to hob-nob with them.  Michael, Alvey and Bryan from the Four Firkins were there, the latter two dressed in suits and fancy hats.  Always cool to see those guys, but strangely out of context!  Several of the folks from Fulton Brewery were there as well, staying involved in the local craft beer scene.  Where is my bottled War and Peace guys?  Former local craft beer distributor Corey Shovein has recently been hired by Founders and was lively and entertaining as always.  Brewery co-founder Dave Engbers was also present and made it a point to get to know everyone in attendance.  At first he seemed a bit reserved, but after he told us a few stories that impression was dismantled quite completely. 

This way to the subterranean torture chamber?  No, just the bar!

Next we moved down the hall past some industrial equipment, into a newly refurbished intimate dining room.  The walls were textured concrete with a deep copper staining that kept the area feeling close and rich.  The ceiling was bare concrete with piping and a more industrial basement feel, but had new light fixtures to soften it up a bit.  Marble topped tables were arranged close together in two rows for us to sit at.  I liked the tight quarters, as it allowed us to talk to the folks at neighboring tables with ease, but I'm guessing our servers were less thrilled with it!  Along one wall was a large bank vault style door the led to some other mysterious recess of the basement.  We were quickly served a small sample of the Founders Oatmeal stout served on nitro; paired with an amuse of a single lightly roasted oyster on the half shell.  I wanted more of each!  Dave said that this is the first time he had sampled that beer outside of their own taproom in Michigan.

The first course was a pheasant and rabbit terrine with veal sweetbreads, served along with some curried quick-pickled cauliflower and other veggies.  I really dislike cauliflower but I can quite honestly say that this was the best I have had in my life.  Terrines are basically a meat log made of the cast-off iffy bits of animals, held together by fat and gelatin, then sliced and served.  Sounds freaky and questionable, but done right the flavors in them can be outstanding.  This was one of the best I have ever had--and I'm the guy that always orders the charcuterie plate whenever possible.  The plate was paired with the Red's Rye PA, a beer that I loved when it first came out, but have had mixed experiences with since.  Apparently Founders has been having some issues with the Amarillo hop character dropping out too quickly, leaving the beer a bit too sweet, which explains my last underwhelming tasting of this beer.  They have just moved it to a seasonal tap only release schedule to keep the beer fresher and to better control the quality.  I think that is a good move and really enjoyed this fresh version of the beer again.

Dave sharing great stories with the class!

As an aside, shortly after starting this dinner, Corey and Dave told us an anecdote that changed the whole tone of the evening.  But in a good way!  Apparently an inebriated and heavily accented east-coast fan of the brewery had recently left a very long and rambling phone message in which he lovingly and repeatedly listed off his favorite Founders beers, followed by saying "F*@!# off!"  I know, this sounds wrong, but it was all in the inflection--making this a high compliment of sorts.  That message quickly made its way through all the employees like an uncontrolled wild fire and the next day in the brewery everyone was quoting it.  After hearing this rather aggressively told story, as well as having some great beers in us by then, the whole room seemed to relax and open up.  For the rest of the night the whole crowd continued to use that line as a very strange but hilarious toast.

Our second course was a squash bisque with sweet maple croutons and hog jowl bacon.  The mix of sweet and savory in the dish was perfect, with extra texture from the crunchy croutons adding complexity to the simple soup.  The beer going along with this was the malty and sweet Dirty Bastard Scotch ale, and actually seemed dryer and easier to drink than usual when paired with this sweeter dish.  This is the beer that saved the brewery from bankruptcy.  After unsuccessfully trying to brew more accessible beers, the founders decided to brew a high alcohol unusual beer that they would want to drink themselves.  And the rest is history!

As the evening went on we found ourselves sipping increasingly strong ales, the ABV creeping up from 4.6% to 6.6% to 8.5%.  Then the BIG beers started to show up!  The next beer was Curmudgeon (clocking in at 9.8% ABV), an old ale that was very drinkable and complex, even when fresh.  I have tasted a three year old version of this that was even better and recommend aging one for a bit.  The dish paired up with the Curmudgeon was a perfectly prepared pan roasted sturgeon served atop a smoked butter, raisin and pickled cabbage concoction.  Our table decided that this pairing was the best of the night, with both the beer and the fish improving when tasted together.

By this time the arrival of each new beer and dish was being greeted with an increasingly raucous round of "F*&#$ Off!" But delivered in a respectful and loving tone I promise! Our next big beer was the 10.2% ABV Backwoods Bastard, the bourbon barrel big brother of Dirty Bastard.  This was the best beer of the night by far, but I'm a sucker for bourbon.  The food for this round was simply amazing and the serving size enormous.  Prior to our dinner, Founders had sent the restaurant one of the Heaven Hill bourbon barrels that had briefly housed the Backwoods Bastard.  This barrel was dismantled and the bourbon and beer infused staves were used to smoke one of the most tender briskets I've ever had the pleasure to taste.  Served with a spicy sausage and the best cheesy grits you are likely to find north of the Mason-Dixon Line, this dish was incredibly satisfying and outrageously filling.

So Good!

By desert the small room was echoing with the music of laughter, shouts, "F%$# Off's", and loud conversation.  Bellies were filled to capacity, even before the arrival of the impressively green grasshopper pie, and Dave made sure to tell us that it was only a wafer thin.  Gotta love Monty Python humor!  I'm not a huge fan of mint and I was feeling a bit overstuffed by that point so I didn't eat much of it.  They also served us up both the 2012 and 2013 versions of the Founders Imperial Stout, so that became my favored desert.

For a first beer dinner I think Butcher & The Boar did an amazing job.  The combination of the attentive staff, intimate setting, incredible food and beer, and wonderful company combined to make this a near perfect event.  It was not a cheap dinner, but I feel that I received an experience that made this trip more than worth the price of entry.  I will certainly be setting Sj back on Facebook-stalk mode to make sure we can get into future dinners!  Make sure to check out this restaurant if you can get in.  And drink some Founders beers too!  They make one of the most consistently good portfolios of craft beers around and I can wholeheartedly agree with their biggest foul-mouthed fan:  "F&$#@ Off!  This is so awesome!"

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