Saturday, May 19, 2007

Magnificent Maggies

More than 45 people were ale'd and regaled in magnificent style at a Clipper City Brewing Cask Ale Dinner, this past Thursday evening at Magnolias at the Mill in Purcellville, Virginia.

Maggies' Manager Kim Ross arranged the event. Chef Mark Marrasco created the meal. I presented the beer. From the planning to the execution, this was one of the best beer dinners with which I have been involved.

From soup to nuts - well, there was no soup, but pistachios were sprinkled atop the fried green tomatoes - all was done with care and forethought.

A beer dinner functions on two levels:

  • as a reward to regular customers
  • as a vehicle with which the chef can display creativity above and beyond the 'standard' fare of the restaurant, as special as that might already be.

In that last regard, more than a month prior to the event, I met with Chef Marrasco, Manager Kim Ross, and pastry chef Andrea.

To examine the beers and flavors together, we sat down weeks beforehand and tasted the beers and some existing menu items. Guesses as to pairings may be serendipitous, but why leave such things to chance? Some pairings were discarded as less than stellar; some were discovered to be unexpectedly delicious. After reading Chef Stephanie Zonis' comments, I have taken to calling this the "1+1= 3" surprise.

Beer writer Steve Frank discovered this conundrum and wrote about it in an article on beer and cheese pairing.

The evening of the dinner, Kim had set the tables with fishermen's netting and sea shells, to reflect the nautical nature of Clipper's line of beers,

I presented each beer with about 5-10 minutes of explanation ... on the beer itself ... and on the pairing if the beer and food. The pacing of the service was spot-on: patrons neither waited too long between entrees or felt rushed.

Of course, I offered a cask of beer. But rather than tap this at the dinner's conclusion, I did so early on, to better explain real ale to a more sober, attentive audience. We chose Clipper City Gold Ale: lower alcohol at 5% than the other Heavy Seas high gravity beers, and, in cask, a revelation of bright floral flavor.

The very chocolatey Peg Leg Imperial Stout, 8% abv, mated with Chef Marrasco's espresso-rubbed (!) beef tenderloin. Patrons said that the coffee brought out the grill of the steak and matched very well with the beer.

Many beer dinners conclude with a strong stout: it's easy to pair with fruit or chocolate.

Tonight, instead, the final course was Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale, a very herbal, hoppy, citrusy beer. (In naming the beer, Clipper City Brewing avoided the sobriquet IPA in order to emphasize this up-front aroma rather than the back-of-the-throat bitterness typical of American IPAs.)

Pastry Chef Andrea accepted the pairing challenge. She created a blueberry parfait with white chocolate mousse and lavender. Desserts are often gobbled up without comment. This pairing elicited many positive remarks.

More photos here.

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