Saturday, April 27, 2013

Republic Homebrew Chef Dinner

When I was alerted to this event (via Facebook) this was a no-brainer...I had to get there.  I'm sure my readers know that I'm all about the gluttony and go to more than my share of beer dinners around the Twin Cities, already having been to a couple this month, so even I felt that this might be excessive.  But it was Sean Paxton the Homebrew Chef! 

Let me back up a bit.  I've been listening to The Brewing Network podcasts for many years now, usually while brewing, and first "met" Sean Paxton through them.  He hosted on several episodes, and just listening to him talk about beer and food was mouthwatering and intriguing.  Paxton is a bearded Goliath of a man, incredibly well spoken and seems to taste food and beer on a completely different plane than most people.  On one of the podcasts I listened to he directed attention to his website.  If you haven't done so go check it out now (but come back and finish reading this blog entry afterwards!)   Make sure to look at the recipes...

Ok, are you back from your Internet journey?  Those recipes are gold.  Foody and fancy and glorious.  I have successfully created dishes based on his recipes for chicken braised in dubbel, grand cru braised lamb shank, lamb shepard's pie, and the extravagant barleywine prime rib.  I have also used his beer brine for chicken and even a Thanksgiving turkey (using an old fermentation bucket as a brining vessel.)  Some of these recipes are simple, others are more complex, but all result in an amazing use of beer in the cooking process.  I recently used a set of recipes from Beer Advocate to make a St. Patty's Day dinner as well and blogged about that.  What I love is that he uses beer as an ingredient in pretty much all of his dishes, contrasting and complimenting the flavors of both the beer and the food.

I've also been to two NHC award banquets and both tasting menus were created by this man, paired perfectly with tasty and complex Rogue beers.  As a result of tasting Paxton's food personally and trying my own hand at recreating his dishes at home, to say I was excited about him coming to town for this beer dinner is certainly an understatement.  Strangely it took my wife prodding me to bite the bullet and get us tickets, but she's an enabler...

The dinner was at Republic Uptown, and only their second beer dinner to date.  The first was a smaller group with Steel Toe and we missed it due to prior engagements.  This dinner was very large, perhaps too much so, but they rolled with it and made the dinner a very good experience.  The event took up the entire restaurant side of the space, but was not really separated from the rowdy Friday night bar crowd.  Between the noise from the bar side and the ebullient diner cheer, it was a bit cacophonous.  Luckily the folks at Republic had planned ahead and set up a microphone for the various speakers, so we could all hear the details.  Our friend Emily Brink (previously from The Happy Gnome) is a manager at Republic and obviously put a lot of time and effort into making this work, as did the rest of the staff.  This dinner was the first such event that was organized by the Rob Shellman, founder of the Better Beer Society.  The goal of that organization is the improve the quality and serving of craft beer in Minnesota, with consulting for restaurants and pubs on their beer programs, as well as a certification for those places so potential drinkers know that they are doing things correctly.  This is the first time I've met Rob and he seemed positively giddy about the dinner!

Our meet and greet beer before the festivities was the sessionable and hoppy Steel Toe Provider.  Between each dinner they had Sean Paxton talk about the dish and the pairing, followed by the brewer to discuss the beer.  The only other beer dinner I've been to with this many brewers present is the Brewmaster's Dinner before ABR each year (last year was at Blackbird and was truly amazing.)

The first course was a raw shaved vegetable salad with goat cheese, paired with the Summit Unchained Organic Ale.  I was a little torn on how much I like this beer, but after getting to have a conversation with brewer Gabe Smoley about how much work it was to get all the organic ingredients and get it USDA certified, it rated a little higher for me.  Interestingly, they went through the effort of making sure the yeast was organic as well, despite that not being a requirement to the certification process.  Winner for this course was the Organic Ale.  Save the planet--drink a beer!

The second course was a walleye fillet poached in the Schell's Goosetown Gose beer.  I found this dish to be my least favorite of the evening, mostly because it was under seasoned, but also because I'm not a huge fan of fish.  The Goosetown was a new beer from Schell's and is a take on the nearly extinct style of Gose--a tart and sour beer with salt added during the brewing process.  Brewer Dan (I didn't catch his last name because it was loud and I'm totally losing my hearing...) discussed the beer for us.  I think he wanted it more sour, but the brewery was concerned that they wouldn't be able to sell it all if it was too sour.  I liked it, but there was more malty lager character than tartness.  Would be very refreshing on a hot summer day...maybe we'll get one of those soon!

The third course was more on track with a wild rice and purple barley (cooked in Bender) pancake topped with pheasant leg confit and a red currant sour cherry Pentagram beer jam.  There was also a healthy serving of pheasant breast that had been smoked with a Russian River Consecration barrel.  This dish was very complex and paired perfectly with the Surly Pentagram.  This beer is sour, dark, and wine like, bringing more interesting flavors with each sip.  A great beer for food pairing.  I'm glad I have a few bottles stashed away in the cellar!  Omar gave a quick talk about this one, and apparently they are now going to make this on a regular basis!

The fourth course was the winner in my book.  Or Blog.  Spring lamb simmered with leeks, yellow onions and shallots, as well as the paired beer.  This was served over soba noodles with a Sriracha gelee and brought tableside in a red Chinese carry-out box.  I am a huge fan of lamb and carbonade, and this spicy Belgian/Asian fusion dish was outrageous.  Bold flavors for a Scandinavian hold-out like Minnesota where many view black pepper as too spicy.  The beer used in the dish and paired with it was the Indeed Hot Box, an Imperial porter made in collaboration with Northbound Smokehouse.  Co-owner Tom Whisenand and brewer Josh Bischoff were both present and the humble Tom gave a bit of background on this unique beer.  They used alder, hickory, and (I think) maple wood to smoke the base grain for the beer as well as hot peppers that were added to the fermenter.  I tried this beer at Winterfest a few months ago and thought it was nearly undrinkable, but it has mellowed significantly with time.  The smoke is strong at this point but not overwhelming, and the chili burn is complementary and not overly painful.  I would search this beer out now just because it is so unusual.

The final beer of the night was my favorite: the Steel Toe Lunker.  I've blogged about this one a couple times, including standing in line outside the brewery in sub-zero weather to get our bottles of it!  Jason Schoneman talked about the beer a bit and apologized to the other brewers for not sitting with them--he was out with his wife Hanna for their second date in a year, so he should be excused!  His sweet English style barleywine aged in Templeton Rye barrels is simply heaven in a glass, and Sean Paxton encouraged Jason to send some to The Toranado Barleywine Festival in California next year.  The last decadent course was a deconstructed barleywine.  Paxton took all of the major flavor descriptors from English barleywine and combined them into a sweet and unusual desert for us.  Prunes, raisins and dried cherries were soaked in the Lunker, along with crunchy Lunker cocoa nib toffee, malted shortbread cookie and a pastry beer curd made with Before the Dawn black barleywine.  Sound awesome?  Yes it was!

Overall I think the dinner was very good, but my favorite aspect of this particular event was the social.  I am not naturally a very outgoing guy and often have a hard time talking to people unless I'm in comfortable company or surroundings.  I blame growing up Norwegian Minnesotan.  Some events though, can make it easier to break out of my stoic and quiet shell, and this was one such.  Sj and I knew a lot of people here!  Everywhere I looked I found an old friend or recent acquaintance to talk to.  I discovered a whole table of fellow homebrewers including Al Boyce, Steve Piatz and their wonderful spouses, as well as beer historian Doug Hoverson.  My good friend Chris German from Rahr/Brewer's Supply Group was there, and he knows everybody in the business.  Our friends Randy and Andrea from previous beers dinners kindly saved us seats and kept us entertained through dinner.  A contingent of folks from The Happy Gnome were there, including the talented Executive Chef Scott Brink, and general manager Ryan Huseby.  Ben Knutson and James Beard nominee Jack Riebel from Butcher & The Boar were there as well, lurking off in a corner.  Let's not forget to mention getting to briefly talk with Sean Paxton, Jason, Omar, and some of the other brewers.  I feel like even without great food and beer I would have had a wonderful time!  While I truly love food and beer, this is the real reason I continue to frequent so many beer dinners.  Thanks to Republic, BBS, Sean Paxton, all the brewers, and all the staff for putting on a unique experience, and for giving me the chance to take part.

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