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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Shot and a Beer

I know what you're thinking, beer and whiskey, but, no, this is not about booze. Well, no, that is a lie, it is about beer, beer and food and a little guerrilla dining. I had the chance to attend an event called Shot and a Brew, put on by The Stag Dining Group and Almanac Brewing. A bit about these two groups.

Our hosts were The Stag Dining Group, who are a group of friends who decided it was time to work together in an industry that they loved, even as business and life moved them about. The work on what they refer to as Clandestine Dining, a great idea, of choosing venues, partners and foods that reflect a sense of adventure, sustainability, creativity, and a variety of other 'ity's' that you can read about. They are a perfect example of what can make a simple dinner in San Francisco delightful.

Almanac Brewing is one of my favorite breweries right now. They brew a series of ales, based upon seasonal produce and a crazy sense of adventure. Although the ales feature liberal use of fruit, there is definitely craft at work, as these brews are hand made and use great ingredients. Their mantra of 'farm to barrel' really shines through. Although I am not a fan of their Pale Ale, I seek out their other ales, such as the soon to be released Chocolat, which is an amazing brew.

In any event, on to the event. First off, was a reception and shoot around at the Pacific Rod and Gun Club in San Francisco, yes, a shooting club in San Francisco. We each had the opportunity to shoot a fine shotgun, eat some prosciutto and generally carry on like monied gentlemen, and ladies, blasting hapless clay pigeons from the air. I discovered, that from when I was 18, to some 34 years later, I still pull the gun and hit 50%. I shall await my return to the line at 86, with higher expectations.

Course One...
Scallop Ceviche, Nasturtium Leaf, Yama Imo Chips, Mojo Verde, Pickled Ramps

This was a wonderful opener, the scallops were cooked in the acids beautifully and the pairing was with Almanac's Honey Saison Farmhouse Ale. They use a local Bay Area honey to flavor the ale. This is an interesting point, that the dinner was completely paired with beers, and not wines. The same rules for pairing beers and ales to food, as to pairing wines to food. These were some fine considerations in the dinner.

Course Two...
Asparagus, Burrata, Meyer Mostarda, Shaved Fennel

This was paired with an as yet unreleased ale, the Farmhouse Number 4 Barrel Aged Sour with Meyer Lemons, Oranges and Buddha's Hand Citron. This ale takes a lot of aromatics and bitterness from being aged over the citrus, which are whole when the ale is added. These overall effect is a sour ale, with a bitter edge, but, not the bitterness commonly found in hops. It was a beautiful complement to asparagus, a notoriously hard pairing for wine. If you are wondering, that stuff that looks like jam is the Mostarda, a Meyer Lemon preserve that is blended with ground mustard seed.

Course Three...
Catalan Style Wheat Berries, Trumpet Mushrooms, Secret Vinaigrette, Baby Kale

This was one of the real stars of the dinner, paired with Almanac's Barrel Noir, an aged Dark Ale that is aged in a bourbon barrel. This is not a hoppy brew, it is what I call a brewer's ale, in that it is all about malts, brewing techniques and aging, without the over-bearing hoppiness that has come to be all too common in craft brewing. Smooth and deeply flavored, it complemented the kale, wheat berries and vinaigrette nicely. As for secret, well, some things are best left unsaid.

Course Four...
5-Spice Quail, Green Strawberries, Tangerine, Thai Basil

Now, my nemesis, I really have not liked quail in the past. No surprise, this was well, still quail, and I still do not like quail. However, to carry on, it was paired with a Farmer's Reserve Number 3, Barrel aged sour with strawberries and nectarines. And it complemented the richness of the quail beautifully, the strawberry adding tartness and the nectarines's aroma working through the dishes richness. I ate just enough to determine that A) I felt the match was excellent and B) I hate quail.

Course Five...
Porter Braised Beef Cheek, Rancho Gordo Hominy, Pickled Onions, Cilantro

Now we are talking, back to beef, and not that rotten quail. This was served with, and cooked in, Almanac's Bier de Chocolat, a Porter brewed with cocoa nibs from Dandelion Chocolate (yes, the Au Curant flame of all S.F. Food snobs, except apparently me). This was so tender and rich, the porter lending it's flavors to the beef, the hominy coarsely mashed, some still crunchy on top, and the tart pickled onions, an excellent match for what has to be one of the most chocolately Chocolate brews I have ever had. Also not yet released, this is an ale that will be worth seeking out if you like chocolate and beer.

Course 6...

Essentially the ending was cheese. And to be honest, I cannot remember what the cheese was, but, it was delicious. It was served with Almanac's Dry Hopped Pale Ale with Mandarins. It was a good match, the hoppy and light textured Pale Ale matching the rich and sweet tastes on the cheese plate. Now, this was a good match, it makes perfect sense from a food point of view. But, if you remember way up top, I said I think the Pale Ale in not to my taste, this held true here. It was still just a hop centric pale ale, a good one, but, not distinctive enough for what had preceded it. I do love a hop-centric ale, but, much like a huge Cabernet, it is often a feature drink to me, not a pairing drink.

It was an excellent meal, and the Brewers and Chef's did themselves proud. I am actually looking forward to joining them again, perhaps at their weekly seating, at Off the Grid, yes, these guys cook a seated meal, with cocktails, at a food truck event. Every single dish, except the quail, was executed with utmost care and technique, these guys rocked that kitchen. Okay, maybe the quail was perfect, who cares? It quail.

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