Thursday, May 9, 2013

Terra Waconia 21st Amendment Dinner

I had decided to hold off on writing up any more beer dinners and focus more on homebrewing and other beer events for a while.  But the best laid plans and all that...

On May 1 Terra Waconia (our local fine dining/farm to table restaurant,) had a beer dinner paired with 21st Amendment beers.  I love this restaurant and their use of fresh seasonal and local ingredients speaks to the locavore foody in me.  I've also been a fan of the 21st Amendment beer since they started distributing here in Minnesota, so this dinner really appealed to me. 

Apparently the distribution representative was unable to attend the dinner at the last minute and Tracy asked me if I would be able to help out on the beer side of things.  I don't really consider myself a beer expert, but I have certainly enjoyed enough beer dinners to be able to fake it!  I am not, by nature, comfortable with public speaking, however I really wanted this dinner to be successful for Terra.  So I jumped in, and had a quick tasting of the beers with Tracy on Tuesday evening.  I made sure to do a little research into the brewery as well, just in case anyone asked me some tough questions.

I have been listening to The Brewing Network Podcast for a long time now and the 21A has been one of their sponsors for most of that time.  For years I listened to advertisements for the brewpub, including a hilarious club/dance remix of one of them.  They often have the brew master Shaun O'Sullivan on the program to talk about brewing and beers, so I feel like I have some second hand background knowledge of the brewer and brewery.  When I first heard that they were brewing and canning beers in Cold Spring, Minnesota I was excited that we would get to finally try these beers.  Then it took quite some time to start getting them in our market.  Now we get all their year-round beers and some of the seasonals, so I can't complain anymore!

On the day of the dinner we had Dave, Sarah, Mark and Kelly from Jack Of All Brews at the restaurant, so I already had a dedicated cheering section.  It turns out there were a few homebrewers from other clubs at the event as well, and it was nice to meet those guys.  Several of the diners were regulars of Terra's wine dinners and were just trying something new.  Hopefully my brief description of how to critically taste beer was good enough for the newbies in the crowd! 

Prior to the dinner service, Tracy ushered me into the small but clean and brightly lit kitchen for a pre-service.  This was a very interesting experience for me.  I am a huge fan of fine dining as well as a budding cook myself.  I like watching shows like Top Chef and Restaurant Impossible and learning some of the details of what goes on behind the scenes in those restaurants.  Chef Craig poured tiny samples of the beers for everyone to taste when discussing the pairings so that everyone knew what to expect.  Craig is typically a fairly soft-spoken guy who seems to avoid the lime-light and likes to stay behind the curtain doing what he does best--cook amazing food!  Seeing him in his element was impressive:  he was firm and no-nonsense, running his kitchen with an organized intensity.  I really enjoyed getting this peek behind the curtain!

Back out on the floor I shrugged off my innate social phobia and talked (probably too quickly) about the beers and the pairings.  I think that being the head of our brewclub has really helped me to get at least some small comfort level with talking to smaller groups...especially when it is a subject I feel knowledgeable about.  Tracy did a great job talking about the food courses.  Having been a part of the pre-service I was able to speak briefly about the potential flavor components in the dishes.  While in this intro period we were served the meet-and-greet beer Bitter American: a 4.4% ABV take on an English bitter, with a large amount of American hops.  This is a tasty session beer and a good one to open the show with. 

Not groundhog...

The first course was Ground Hog Nachos, as a way of getting back at Punxatawny Phil for allowing us to still have falling snow on May 1.  Everything was incredibly well seasoned and the freshly made chips were crisp and amazing.  Clarification: this dish was made with Ground Hog...NOT groundhog!  The dish was paired with the well-balanced West Coast style Brew Free Or Die IPA.  The beer was refreshing and the strong flavors cleansed the palate well after the nachos.

The second beer was the Marooned On Hog Island, an imperial strength oyster stout made with real oyster shells.  This beer has a roasty aroma with a hint of brine; flavors to match with a silky and salty finish.  The oyster is subtle in this beer, with most people not picking it out unless told about it.  The dish paired with the beer was a complex and layered golden lobster soup that truly accentuated that briny character of the beer.  The best pairing of the dinner by far!

Third course was a bison short rib that had been rubbed, marinated and then grilled for a melange of deep meaty flavors.  The pairing was interesting: using the Back In Black black IPA.  That style is not my favorite, but the pairing with the bison and the spice rub really brought out the roast in the beer and toned down the citrus notes.  This beer is made with 2-row grain from our wonderful local maltster Rahr in Shakopee!

The final dish was Tracy's heavenly strawberry-rhubarb crumble.  The beer pairing was a bold move in my opinion, but worked quite nicely.  Tracy told me that she had tasted the Hell Or High Watermelon Wheat beer and based on that alone had wanted to do this beer dinner!  Most dinners would have used this as a meet-and-greet beer or paired with a melon salad...but not Terra Waconia!  No, they paired it with a dessert course!  The beer itself is unique, with mild melon flavors and a fairly neutral wheat character.  The tart rhubarb really brought out the melon flavors in this beer, making it actually taste better than on its own, the sign of a great pairing. 

This dinner was probably the best food I've had from the restaurant and they obviously had a great time producing the food and pairings for it.  I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in the process and see a bit of what goes on behind the scenes for such an undertaking.  They were prepping ingredients for some of these dishes days in advance!  Hopefully those who hadn't been to a beer dinner before had a good experience and learned a little something about beer tasting and pairing.  Despite being the "beer expert" I feel like I learned something from both Chef Craig and Tracy that evening!  Keep those beer dinners coming guys!
And more glasses for the collection...

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